Although the tickets were expensive, when I found one seat still available in the first row of the balcony, I decided that it was a sign that I should see the Tribeca Film Festival’s screening of Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band at the Beacon Theatre. The documentary is a film of the last concerts of the 40th anniversary tour of Horses at The Wiltern in Los Angeles.
Director Steve Sebring does a brilliant job. He said he had to hurry to have the film ready for the premiere but that does not show. There are not many good concert films out there and this is one of the best I have seen. There is some backstage footage at the start of the documentary but most of the 77 minutes is spent with Patti and her band on stage. And I mean that. There are not a lot of crowd shots (Jimmy Iovine and Carrie Brownstein appear in two different crowd shots) or shots from the POV of the crowd. For most of the movie, we see Patti up close – all her facial expressions and arm movements – as she sings her heart out. Horses is an amazing album from start to finish and seeing it performed live is a joy. How can you not love an album that begins with “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”?
The movie was filmed over two nights and at one point I noticed that the black and white design of her t-shirt under her vest seemed to change mid-song but the cutting and sync are perfect and you would never know that this was not shot on the same night. For the encore, Flea joins the band for “My Generation” and he has a lot of fun with the bass solo and trading off with Tony Shanahan.
Patti has fun with the audience. A guy yells out, “Take it off!” and she responds, “For you??” And then says, “I’ve got better in the grave than you,” and something about being a 60-year-old broad and being tough. After they finish performing side one, Patti holds up a copy of the album and says that now you have to take the record out and put it on the turntable and pick up the arm and carefully place it on the groove for side B.
“Break It Up” was written with Tom Verlaine about a dream Patti had about Jim Morrison. There was a giant marble statue of a bound (like Prometheus) angel in the desert. She chants and chants “break it up” until the stature cracks and a butterfly emerges with the soul of Jim Morrison. “Elegie,” written with Allen Lanier (Blue Oyster Cult), is about Jimi Hendrix but during the live performance she sings/recites the names of a lot rock stars who have gone, including Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Fred “Sonic” Smith, Lemmy, Jim Morrison, and Jim Carroll. Unlike the album, “Land” morphed into another version of “Gloria.” It was something to see the energy of the “Land”/”Gloria” combo go so somber and beautiful for “Elegie.”
The movie is visually and sonically brilliant and, unfortunately, most people will be seeing it on smaller screens when it is released by Apple Music near the end of May. I hope they release it theatrically long enough for more people to see it on a big screen.
The film features Lenny Kaye (guitar/background vocals), Jay Dee Daugherty (drums), Tony Shanahan (bass/keyboards/background vocals), Jack Petruzzelli (guitar), and her son Jackson Smith (guitar).
Sebring had asked us to treat the film like a concert and to singalong, shout, and applaud. Most of us did not. But once the screen pulled up and revealed Patti and the band, the crowd went as crazy as they would for any of her live concerts. The band onstage was Kaye, Daugherty, Shanahan, and Jackson Smith.
They started with “Dancing Barefoot” and then Patti quoted Thomas Paine (“these are times that try men’s souls”) and said, “And every single fucking day what they do in Washington tries our souls.” Then she praised the Parkland Five (“Their cause is our future.”) and the band performed “For What It’s Worth.” After the song there was a commotion in the loge and I could not see what was happening. Patti did not know what was going on either but then said, “What is this? Altamont?” From what I read, some guy gave her the finger and was shouting. Who comes to a Patti Smith film/concert and is not familiar with her politics? Patti ignored him and sang “Pissing in a River.” The band then did the mash-up of “Land”/”Gloria” with a big audience singalong.
She introduced a guest for a song that reminded her of Fred Smith, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimmy Iovine and then Bruce came out to play guitar and sing one verse of “Because the Night.” For “People Have the Power,” Patti brought out Michael Stipe (R.E.M.) and her daughter Jesse Smith on keyboards.
“Don’t forget it. Use your voice”
Years ago, Patti played one of the small stages at Lollapalooza. The people I was with (all about 10-15 years younger than me) were unfamiliar with her but followed when I shouted out in joy (hearing her name) and ran to the stage. She had been out of the public eye for a while at that time. But the Beacon was sold-out and filled with people much younger than me and those my age and older. Patti spoke for us then and she speaks for us now.
Horses: Patti Smith and Her Band
Gloria (Part I: In Excelsis Deo; Part II: Gloria)
Break It Up
Land (Part I: Horses; Part II: Land of a Thousand Dances; Part III: La Mer(de) / Gloria
Beacon Theatre concert
For What It’s Worth
Pissing in a River
Land / Gloria
Because the Night
People Have the Power
By Carene Lydia Lopez