Tribeca: Patti Smith Performs With Bruce Springsteen at 'Horses' Premiere

Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith - 2018 Tribeca Film Festival - Getty - H 2018
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The documentary follows Smith and her band through two L.A. shows for the 40th anniversary of her debut album.

The people have the power to redeem the work of fools, but Patti Smith has the power to breathe new life into her most celebrated work, with surprises to spare.

At the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band on April 23, Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye, her son Jackson and the rest of her musical outfit were the guests of honor as well as the headliners. After the credits rolled on the documentary, the screen flew up, revealing Smith and band performing with nothing more than the naked brick wall of the Beacon Theatre behind them.  

To mark the 40th anniversary of Horses, her 1975 debut album, Smith recorded a new live version of it at New York's Electric Lady Studios before an in-studio audience, then hit the road to perform the album in full for packed theaters around the world.  

Director Steven Sebring, who worked with Smith and company on his debut documentary, 2008's Patti Smith: Dream of Life, joined their caravan, and Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band hovers over a two-night stand in January 2016 at the Wiltern in Los Angeles.

Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band is intimate, visceral and raw, and the choice to premiere it at the Beacon was smart: the theater is adored by musicians for its acoustics, and the exceptional sound design and Sebring's intuitive focus succeeded in transforming the documentary into an immersive experience in that space.

Before the screening, Sebring encouraged the audience to sing along, which they gladly did, especially for the calls-and-responses of "Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)" and "Land: Horses/Land of a Thousand Dances/La Mer (De)." The recorded rounds of applause and cheers from the Wiltern crowd echoed and crashed against the walls of the Beacon as if the two audiences had merged into one. Smith commanded the rapt attention of both crowds, and Sebring's lens fixated on details — stray strands of her silver mane; the lines on the palms of her outstretched hands; the angles her face folds into when she sneers — and stolen moments. Not an ounce of Smith's intensity was lost on screen, though Sebring provided ample laughs with a scathing exchange that had the rocker eviscerating a heckler screaming "Take your top off!" at the Wiltern: "For you, right? Honey, I got better in the grave than you."

The hecklers were out in New York, too. Once the film portion of the program had concluded and the performance was underway, a man shouting in the balcony was addressed in kind. The tension dissolved with wry smiles from Smith, and she moved on to a cover of Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," dedicating the '60s anthem to Jaclyn Corin, Emma González, David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Alex Wind, aka the Parkland Five, a group of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students that have passionately campaigned for gun control and organized the March for Our Lives in the wake of the Feb. 14 shooting at their school.

“The Parkland Five are the fucking hope of this planet!" she declared. "Their cause is our future!"

The cover wasn't the only curveball. After introducing the members of her band at the end of the night, Smith took a moment to thank other people in the audience and proceeded to send another thank you to someone offstage, waiting behind the curtain. Bruce Springsteen then sauntered out, and the two friends dove into "Because the Night," the single written by Springsteen on Smith's third album, Easter. Springsteen stuck around, and Michael Stipe joined in for the grand finale of "People Have the Power."

At one point, the instruments dropped out just before the final chorus, and Smith's was the only voice that rang out as her band and the crowd clapped the rhythm. Springsteen and Stipe were clapping along, too, just as fervently keeping the beat as the players beside them and the dedicated fans dancing in the aisles.

Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band is the best kind of concert film because it transports you. Smith's bellows rang out in Los Angeles two years ago, but the strength of Sebring's work brings you back to the Wiltern so you can hear the wisdom and strength seared into her live show. Thankfully, the premiere of the documentary did the opposite. It forced us to be present, and that forced us to be grateful, as an album that gathers generations to sing along with idols and strangers is worth celebrating — especially if the woman who forged it is there to lead the chorus, with a few tricks up her sleeve.

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