Hammersmith 1976 [no label 1CD]
Live in London, Oct 22 1976. VG

Patti's second trip to London (following a visit earlier in the year) fell on the eve of release for Radio Ethiopia, an album that was already getting a rough ride from the local critics, but which has since established itself among her most lasting works - as a listen to this quickly proves. It's an obvious audience recording even before a passing Frenchman starts chattering midway through, but what it loses in fidelity is certainly remedied in ambience.

"We're Gonna Have A Real Good Time Together" opens, of course, together with a reminder of the city's other live attraction that evening - Patti's first words are "I'd like to thank you all for not going to see Peter Frampton tonight." A slinky "Kimberley" and a funky "Redondo Beach" keep the roars of recognition going, before a haunting piano passage fools everyone into expecting a new song. Instead, they get an elegiac "Free Money," and the show's almost halfway over before "Ask The Angels" ushers in the new album, bookended between "Louie Louie" and a triumphant "Time is On My Side." 

But "Pumping" is dense and unfamiliar, and an epic "Ain't It Strange" wraps itself in concentric circles around that most lazily compulsive of almost-reggae rhythms. The performance tonight is dedicated to reggae star Tapper Zukie… had the tape recorder only attended the following evening, Zukie himself appeared on stage, and the ensuing "Ain't It Strange" remains still burned into the memory. (I know, because I was there.)

A handful of hecklers arise from the stalls - Patti responds with the staccato signals of "Radio Ethiopia," an eternity of feedback, riffing and caterwauling that only slowly resolves itself back into anything the audience might recognize - a motorvatin' guitar and harp riff - and then snatches it away again with a furious "Rock'n'Roll Nigger." And now we're into the home stretch; everyone hails a swaggering "Gloria," and you may never have heard "Land" reduced to an audience clapalong before, but it doesn't seem to phase Patti any. Shame that the tape runs out before the song does, but it's still a great version.

An excellent show, then, as representative as any of the better-known (and, it must be said, better-quality) boots that circulate from elsewhere on the Ethiopia tour, and a reminder of just how sensational the Patti Smith Group was at its peak. Because, no matter what she went on to record and achieve, Radio Ethiopia really was as good as it got. And Hammersmith was one of the highlights. - Dave Thompson

Click here for more reviews by Dave Thompson.

For more... email with the message, "Put me on your mailing list."

July 13, 2007