It’s not very far into Patti Smith’s show at Koncerthuset that a theme emerges for the night: Death. Death hangs over so many of her stories and songs. It’s implied when she opens the evening by reading from Just Kids about the optimism of ringing in the New Year, 1970, with Robert Mapplethorp, and confirmed shortly thereafter when she introduces “Paths That Cross” as a song written with her late husband for their friends suffering from AIDS (including Mapplethorp). It’s present in “This is the Girl,” Smith’s tribute to Amy Winehouse, now gone five years. It’s in the cover versions of “When Doves Cry,” “Perfect Day” and “People Get Ready,” the last of which got its worldwide debut from Patti and Co.
Or maybe this show is about life. As the years creep on and her written works begin to match those she’s recorded, Patti Smith is increasingly the one who has lived to tell the stories of those lost along the way. And Patti herself is so full of life. You feel it in the way her voice careers from folksy when she’s telling an unscripted story to frantic when she’s yowling the outro to “Land:” and flailing her arms to match. Or when she introduces “Beneath the Southern Cross” as “a song for life.” Or in the simple energy that radiates from her when she dances throughout the evening, every movement with a consistency that suggests that this is still what she loves and wants to be doing.
No, really, this evening is about survival. Because Patti Smith is not just a historian of her own stories or other people’s stories. She’s not on a legacy tour, but performing music she’s written in the last decade. She tells the audience that she’s performed the songs from Horses a million times, but it doesn’t feel like it. There’s still a force behind those songs that tells you they’re as important to her now as they were 40 years ago. Sometimes it manifests itself as fumbling intros, as with “Land:” and “Because the Night,” possibly because, after all these years, she still thinks about the songs as she sings them. She clearly isn’t on autopilot. She’s still experimenting, whether it’s new arrangements or new covers. It’s this enduring creativity that we will continue to celebrate.