We were there when the legendary Patti Smith took over Festival Hall, and this is what went down

When we finally set foot on Festival Hall’s venerable wooden floor, Barnett was in the midst of a Nirvana attack.  Punk rock angst without Kurt’s inner demons.  Loud and frenetic.  And then Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party, completewith re-purposed classic rock riffs. But when you’ve got Courtney Barnett and Patti Smith, somebody does care if you’re at the party.
The similarities between Courtney Barnett and Patti Smith are arguably patronising at best, but without Patti Smith, Barnett’s path to rock’n’roll stardom would surely have been a harder road to toil.  Patti Smith is an icon, a legend in multiple rock’n’roll generations.  A fusion of radical chic poetry and punk rock attitude.  If there was a better way to start this show than Dancing Barefoot, who cares what it might have been, because this was perfect.  Absolutely perfect. 
Smith’s played thousands of shows from dilapidated punk clubs to ornate European concert halls, but you get the sense that every audience is her favourite, ever.  “People told me this place was intimidating, but it’s just a big club,” Smith says.  She talks about her teenage enthusiasm for folk poetry; the next thing we know, she’s stepping through Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.  Her band is without peer: Lenny Kaye knows a thing or two about garage rock.  Jay Dee Daugherty, Tony Shanahan, these are players whom Smith can trust. 
It was an evening of evocative imagery: Jim Morrison bursting from Smith’s chest, a dismembered Arthur Rimbaud strung out on opiates in Abyssinia.  The currency of some of Smith’s rhetoric is open to challenge.  People Have the Power (with Courtney Barnett on guitar), but the people don’t always make the choices we all want.  See Trump, One Nation.  Freedom is an illusory construct.  See Ian Svenonious, Chain and the Gang.  But this was language as performance, and politics just gets in the way.
When Land morphed into Gloria, the warmth in the room was palpable; when Because the Night rendered the night for us, the love was inescapable.  Rock’n’Roll Nigger evoked punk rock’s original outside spirit.  We were all standing with Smith on the outside of society, throwing verbal stones at its suffocating discourse and disempowering dominant institutions.  And then there was the emotional finale of Wing, Patti Smith and band all lined up, at one with the audience.  Perfect, so very perfect.
Words by Patrick Emery
Image by Ian Laidlaw
Highlight: Starting with Dancing Barefoot.
Lowlight: Missing most of Courtney Barnett.
Crowd favourite: Rock’n’Roll Nigger.