REVIEW

 

PATTI SMITH
The Poetry Project 1971 [Mer 1CD torrent 135105]

Patti Smith was making her debut at the weekly Poetry Project readings at St Mark's Church on the Lower East Side when this particular performance was recorded, on February 10 1971, opening for Gerard Malanga. It's a doubly significant date, too - her first at the venue was also her first with record store clerk Lenny Kaye accompanying her on guitar across four numbers, beginning with a frenetically raw version of Bertholt Brecht's "Mack The Knife," to mark the writer's birthday. The set moves on to include unaccompanied readings of "Oath" (whose "Jesus died for somebody's sins" opening would later be grafted onto her version of "Gloria"), "Crime," "The Devil Has A Hangnail," "The Wait For You," "You're The River," "A Saint In Any Form," "The Murdered Boy," and "White Lightning"… it's interesting, incidentally, how few of these are included in Smith's own Early Work anthology of verse… before Kaye reappears for a keening "Fire Of Unknown Origin" and the wild "Don't Hang Me Up, Jesse James." 

The climax of this surprisingly good audience recording, however, is "Ballad of A Bad Boy," a rhythmic riff and swaggering chant that come so close to predicting Smith and Kaye's future that you spend the performance anticipating the moment that the rest of the band will kick in. They don't, but the tuning dial is already racing towards Radio Ethiopia and, no matter who the history books are currently crediting with the blueprint for New York punk rock, "Ballad of A Bad Boy" really is Year Zero. - Dave Thompson

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August 8, 2007