Let me tell you about one of the most incredible live shows I’ve ever gotten to personally experience. It was December 30, 2016 at the gilded Riviera Theatre in Chicago. Patti Smith was the evening’s headlining attraction, but this was by no means an ordinary concert. In addition to performing one of the greatest albums of all time in its entirety, Horses, it also happened to be Patti’s 70th birthday. The mood in the room was light, overflowing with goodwill as Patti walked out onto the stage and ran through the music that introduced her to the world back in 1975 with a gusto and enthusiasm that was frankly shocking. Honestly, you don’t know how viscerally exciting rock and roll can be until you’ve witnessed “Free Money” and “Gloria” in all their twitchy, bombastic glory live.
Just after the main set, and after she recounted the harrowing evening of her birth in the dead of night, right here in Chicago — “I was nearly born in a taxi cab on Lake Shore Drive. The Great Snowstorm of 1946,” she told us from the stage — the room burst with confetti, almost approximating the snowblind conditions of that seminal evening 70 years hence. Smith herself was unprepared for the deluge of shredded paper. “My tour manager Andrew Burns… didn’t know how much to get and he got twice as much as needed, and so we had this unbelievable confetti finale, which was a total shock to me,” she told me when we spoke recently by phone. “I couldn’t stop laughing! It was almost impossible to go back to performing. I was just like an 11-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 5-year-old. I was so excited!”
R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe soon arrived with a flaming cake and we all sang “Happy Birthday” to one of the great poets of our time. Then she launched straight into “People Have The Power” before strapping on a guitar and ripping the roof off the joint with an atomic cover of The Who’s “My Generation” in the encore. It’s was as uplifting and emotionally charged a moment as I can recall taking in during a live performance.