Two chords of Patti Smith’s brilliant and multifaceted career harmonize and ring out in Patti Smith: Words And Music, a three-night-only Off Broadway production that, like the show uptown starring her old Jersey pal and “Because the Night” cowriter, combines storytelling with well-chosen samples of a 40-year-plus rock & roll repertoire.
The performances (the third and final is set for tonight) are being recorded by Audible, the Amazon audio books division that has made Greenwich Village’s Minetta Lane Theatre its home base for public recordings as varied as these evenings with Smith and an upcoming star-packed reading of a new Billy Crystal play.
Whether reading short excerpts from her award-winning memoir Just Kids or recounting some wonderfully shaggy and moving anecdote about loved ones she’s lost – husband Fred “Sonic” Smith and photographer friend Robert Mapplethorpe, chiefly – Smith creates an immediate and intimate rapport with her audience. First-night jitters only added to the charmed mood.
Recalling her arrival in New York City in 1967, Smith remembered the radio hits spilling out into the Lower East Side air, like Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joel…”
Long, perfectly timed pause as Smith considered her mistake. “Did I really say that?,” she asked, breaking an awkward silence and getting a big laugh in response. “Considering my intense dislike for him…”
Backed by her son Jackson Smith on guitar, daughter Jesse Paris Smith on piano and longtime band member Tony Shanahan on everything, Smith, in excellent voice at the reviewed performance Saturday, performed a fine collection from her iconic songbook: “Dancing Barefoot,” “Peaceable Kingdom,” “Frederick” (for her husband), “Jackson Song” (for her son), “Wing” (for her daughter), “Pissing in a River,” “Because the Night” (the big hit she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen way back when) and, to close, “People Have The Power,” the populist anthem she co-wrote with her late husband.
The show was performed on a set with a funky old orange couch, an overstuffed easy chair from the Smith family home (“sacred” is how she and the kids describe it) and, in pride of place, the beautiful old Rickenbacker electric guitar used by Sonic Smith during his MC5 heyday. It went unplayed Saturday, but spoke loudly of love, loss, family and rock & roll.
Patti Smith: Words And Music will be available on Audible Nov. 2.