Big Apple is at the core of the Queen of punk Patti Smith’s Alban Arena performance

Patti Smith

Patti Smith - Credit: Archant

A SLICE of New York cool came to St Albans last weekend as queen of punk Patti Smith took to the Alban Arena for an intimate summer gig.

No doubt due to the success of her memoir Just Kids – which followed the feminist’s rise to stardom and her now legendary relationship with photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe – a broad cross-section of fans and followers new and old had gathered at the music venue to hear the voice that defined a generation.

The 66 year old chose to play on a stripped-down stage last Saturday, hosting no more than two guitars and a piano, and wore a low key dress with a trademark beanie.

There were no frills, nor elaborate add-ons, just some neon lighting – this artist was simply going to use her words and voice to entertain the crowds, and she promised the very best of her poetic hits alongside excerpts from her award-winning novel.

As if to reaffirm to the disbelieving audience that she was definitely in the district, Patti let us know how lovely our trees were (“...and I’m a big lover of trees” she drawled) before divulging her plans to visit Butterfly World the following day.

Smith’s ripe and cultivated voice cracked, croaked and chanted through a collection of records spanning just over 30 decades and remembering several late musicians.

Her’s is a singing voice which carries the weight and evidence of decades of campaigning, heartbreak, the fight to be heard, the celebration of art, and a deep-rooted love of rock and punk. A simple song by Patti speaks far more volumes than a bloated dance-pop fusion by the latest crop of the world’s musical women such as Rihanna.

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Patti and her on-stage partner Tony Shanahan blasted through a string of covers including Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues and John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy – a song which she dedicated to the country’s new arrival Prince George. She then took a moment to acknowledge another famous Brit, the late Amy Winehouse, singing her tribute track to the troubled singer This is the Girl.

Because the Night – her biggest commercial success – was music to the crowd’s ears and goaded them to embrace the evening and rush to the front of the stage for the last few songs, which included newbie Banga and favourite People Have the Power.

She gave the crowd her complete attention, concentrating on us more than herself, which might explain why she kept endearingly dropping things on the floor or getting the timing of a track wrong. “I’m the living example of the phrase that goes nobody’s perfect”, she quipped and giggled.

Perfect person or not, Patti certainly seemed the perfect rock’n’roll artist on Saturday night as she sang with all her might, engaged with the audience and made the smallest slip-up seem like the coolest thing ever.