The Patti Smith Group, Waterloo Park

Friday Night

The Patti Smith Group

Waterloo Park

To term it a religious experience would not be an exaggeration. Patti Smith, poet, visionary, high priestess of punk, gathered the huddled masses in Waterloo Park for her glorious return to Austin in a ceremony that was at once an homage, an exorcism, and a holy communion of rock and the power of the word. "It's been 20 years since I've been here," she proclaimed, "and it was worth the wait." Swaggering onstage, her angular Modigliani features now softened, her hair streaked with gray, Smith accentuated her messianic presence with her hands: long, bony fingers that gesticulated wildly -- waving, caressing, imploring, forming fists, pounding the air. She was the shaman, and we were rapt in her spell. Coursing through the anthemic "Ghost Dance" and "Free Money," Smith's voice rose and fell, one minute a whisper, the next a snarl. During "Don't Say Nothing," the snarl became an impassioned plea: "This is election year -- use your voice!" Hear that, people? Obey. "Glitter in Their Eyes," a standout track from her new Gung Ho album, came off as an adrenaline rush of soaring guitar and anti-consumerism vitriol. Balancing the work of longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye, Smith's voice was entrancing, taking on so many guises: caressing and cajoling on "Seven Ways of Going," a dark, rambling, blues-tinged opus; betraying an unrestrained primitive carnality on "Dancing Barefoot"; and taking the form of a mystical incantation in "Pissing in a River." Smith was both dervish, spinning and twirling around the stage, and banshee, her face contorted, her eyes squeezed shut. Toward the end of her nearly 90-minute set, she put on her glasses and opened her book of prose to read of Ho Chi Minh, to whom her new album is dedicated, Smith demanding "one more revolution, one more turn of the wheel!" A rousing version of the title track then evolved into a chant, with Smith the soapbox orator calling for a collective voice, collective change, before segueing seamlessly into a triumphant "People Have the Power." Telling the crowd that she has not sold herself to God, Smith then led the crowd on a sacred epiphany, "Rock N Roll Nigger." With her face contorted and twitching, Smith howled, a visceral primal scream ripping through her frenzied words. Grabbing the Vietnamese flag draped over her amp, she tied it around her head and proceeded to tear the strings off the guitar she brandished, exclaiming that this is only gun we need. Standing in crucifixion pose, both martyr and savior, spitting and screaming that the time is now, it's Smith who is one more revolution, one more turn of the wheel. Then, just as suddenly as she appeared, she was gone, leaving the crowd dazed and still, witnesses to something that seemed not of this world.

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