By Julie Oatfield /// Staff Writer
Patti Smith must have sensed the back-to-school vibes coming from the Lewis & Clark students in the audience at her concert on the 20th. Personally, I couldn’t ask for a better way to kick off the semester.
A rock legend since the 1970s, Smith’s fans have a wide range of tastes and ages. Her presence set the crowd abuzz long before the Patti Smith Group took the stage. Soft-spoken grandmothers asked me and a nearby Portland Community College student what on earth we were doing there. Did we have any idea who this was? Likewise, I was a little surprised. I couldn’t exactly picture these women grooving to “High on Rebellion.” Regardless, we cheered together when she finally stepped up in front of us.
The band started off by warming up the audience with folksy vibes, but Smith’s unique voice ensured there was still a lively, hard rocker leading the group. She softened, but lost no passion for songs like “Because the Night” and “This is the Girl” (the latter in honor of Amy Winehouse). Long-time guitarist Lenny Kaye took the spotlight for a couple of covers from Love and Burt Bacharach before Smith jumped back in with her signature yelps intensifying with each song.
Pausing the band to chat with the crowd, she claimed that the happier she was at a show the more she talked. After rambling about her love of TV, warnings of the 2016 “shitfest” of an election, and her trip to Powell’s for John-Luc Godard’s writings on cinema, one guy yelled “Tell us a joke!” So, without missing a beat, Smith said,“I am a joke, man. I don’t have to tell no fuckin’ jokes.”
With the amazing ability to tear across genres and decades, Smith, at 68, can take herself as seriously as she wants. Then again, at 28, she probably would have said the exact same thing.
Her art and personality are one and the same. In that spirit, Smith’s last notes on stage were those of her fingers literally ripping the strings off her Stratocaster.