Wednesday, September 13, 2006

What would Patti do?

Since I saw Patti Smith's "The Coral Sea" at Meltdown last year, I'd re-evaluated my rules governing cool. I find myself wondering "what would Patti do?" especially when faced with the opportunity to join in, especially when asked to sing along at gigs. I generally keep my mouth shut. So imagine my surprise when my hero asks us to sing along with the chorus to her new song about Guantanamo Bay.

A crisis. "What would Patti do?" I kept my mouth shut, and my chance to claim backing vocals on a Patti Smith track passes me by.

Being the kind of girl who hyperventilates at the mention of My Bloody Valentine, I wasn't going to miss the reprise of Smith's collaboration with the reclusive Kevin Shields. "The Coral Sea" is an elegy to Smith's lover/collaborator Robert Maplethorpe, who would have been 60 this year. Last year's performance moved me to tears and got a standing ovation.

But first a chance to hear some of Smith's less well known songs and a couple of new ones. Most impressive was "Qana", a mother's response to the children killed in the Lebanon, made all the more personal by her introduction and stories about her own children. Supported by the incredible Giovanni Solima on cello, Tony Shanaban on piano and bass and (yes!) Jason Pierce of Spiritualized, Smith showed off her incredible voice and proved that, despite being unfashionable, the protest song is alive and well.

But onto the main course and what we all came for. Shield's shuffled on stage, turned his guitar to 11 and, recalling his MBV days, wrapped the Queen Elizabeth Hall in a wall of feedback. Smith stood, arms spread, screaming "It's meant to be loud, it's meant to be uncomfortable" as Shields added layer up layer of noise and effects to the squirling sound. One minute it was like cats skittering down glass, next like the brewing of a terrible storm. Then there's "that sound", that almost bankrupted Creation records, that shimmers and simmers and screws with your solar plexus.

I was left feeling like a wet rag, wrung out and left to dry as Smith lay down and Shields turned off his guitar. This was an amazing night.


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