Patti Smith Covers Nirvana, Praises Vincent D'Onofrio, Dedicates Song to Johnny Depp at L.A. Show

Patti Smith live 2014 H
Associated Press
Still bristling with rebellious ambition, the iconic singer continues to rock with brains and authority.

Looking out from the stage of the beautiful, impressive Moorish palace that is downtown Los Angeles’ Theater at the Ace Hotel, Patti Smith told a sold-out crowd on Jan. 29 that the beautifully renovated room was built in 1927 with “belief, hope, and rebellious ambition.” She could have just as well been describing her own career.

In the nearly 40 years since the release of her landmark debut album, Horses, Smith has been a punky hellion, a declamatory poet, rabble rousing rocker, master elegy deliverer and comic/philosopher. But the slow simmer of Thursday night’s performance showcased the now 68-year-old grandmother’s longest-lived role: fan.

She dedicated songs to Dr. Who’s David Tennant (the extra-terrestrial fantasy “Distant Fingers”), Johnny Depp (“Pissin In The River”), her new grandson Frederick (a lovingly sung cover of John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy”), and covering Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,. When she brings out former Black Crowe Rich Robinson to perform Bob Dylan’s “Time Passes Slowly,” she sat cross-legged off to the side, smiling broadly and mouthing the words. (Her fine four-piece band — including original Patti Smith Group members Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty, long-time bassist Tony Shanahan and recent recruit Jack Petruzzelli — showed off their fandom, dedicating their covers of Love’s “My Little Red Book” and “7 & 7 Is” to the late Kim Fowley and Elektra Records founder Jac Holtzman.)

These were mixed with her sweet-natured goofiness. To wit: she stopped “Pumping (My Heart)” midway through and deflected the crowd’s repeated calls of love with by joking “poor you,” and “I wish I could see into your mirror;” she declared her love for actor Vincent D'Onofrio and Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and mock apologized for not discussing important issues, claiming that life is often made up of “stupid shit,” but that it doesn’t matter, because she was spending her time with the “f—ed up people of LA... my people!”

While this performance couldn’t match the headlong, incantatory intensity of that made Smith a jaw-dropping, life-changing performer, it managed to build to a powerful climax. The final third of the nearly two-hour-long show was given over to “Gandhi” with new lyrics interpolating Martin Luther King, Jr., the apostles, aliens, and a reminder that “together, we can do anything — the world is ours.” An encore of the single chord vamp of “Banga” was accompanied by a red-haired young woman Smith pulled from the pit, adding guitar. “People Have The Power” and “Gloria,” which ended with Smith standing on a monitor, leaning out into the crowd and leading them in the call-and-response, fist-pumping chorus: “Don’t be afraid, you are a free people.”

In other words: Smith delivered a fierce, life-affirming show, and a reminder that as long as she continues to write, record and perform, the idea of rock and roll as a transformative, communal art lives on.

Set List:

Dancing Barefoot
Redondo Beach
Pumping (My Heart)
Distant Fingers
Beautiful Boy (John Lennon cover)
Time Passes Slowly (Bob Dylan cover)
Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana cover)
My Little Red Book (written by Bacharach/David, as performed by Love)
7 & 7 Is (Love cover)
Ain't It Strange
Because The Night
Pissing In The River


People Got The Power
Gloria (In Excelcis Deo)