DVD Review: Patti Smith – Live at Montreux 2005

DVD Review: Patti Smith – Live at Montreux 2005
Eagle Rock Entertainment
All Access Review: C+

Patti Smith - Live at Montreux 2005
Montreux, Switzerland is a long way away, both literally and figuratively, from CBGBs, circa 1975. The accommodations at the famed jazz festival hosted by this Swiss city couldn’t be better – a big, wide stage, space to fit a big crowd comfortably and muted, but colorful lighting. Presumably, even the bathrooms are nice, or at least the janitorial staff is likely to clean up any vomit in a timely manner – unlike the famed venues where punk came of age and its rats spat at anything resembling convention.

This is where Patti Smith found herself in 2005, fresh off having curated the Meltdown Festival in London and in a nostalgic mood, as she and her band acknowledged the passing of 30 years since the release of Horses, one of punk’s landmark records. And while we might long to see a younger, hungrier Smith in her more natural environment once again at dirty old, graffiti-splattered CBGBs, passionately expressing her haunting, disturbingly poetic visions of people caught in desperate, dangerous circumstances  and looking down the barrel of troubling existential crises as Lenny Kaye feeds her cleverly designed, well-manicured guitar shapes and frenzied, feedback-drenched squalls, those days are gone, never to be repeated. She’s moved on to bigger, if not always better, things, and CBGBs is now a clothing store.

It’s nice to see, however, that Smith, now well into her 60s and still wearing the familiar androgynous uniform of a white shirt and black tie, has retained some of the edginess and raw emotion that fueled her finest writings and most flammable performances, as evidenced by a sometimes mesmerizing and fiery performance captured in an all-too-brief concert film “Live at Montreux 2005.” With the exception of a rather tepid and paint-by-numbers reading of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” and a disjointed and sleepwalking journey through “Seven Ways of Going” punctuated by some truly pointless improvisations, Smith, Kaye, bassist/keyboardist Tony Shanahan, drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and guitarist Tom Verlaine – he of Television fame – are mostly sharp, nuanced and wonderfully intuitive in framing Smith’s arty imagery and stark sketches of street life. However, as respectful as they are of their surroundings,their performance seems somewhat bloodless.

Given a short and sweet treatment, “Because the Night” is, of course, supposed to be the driving, cathartic centerpiece of every Smith performance, although in some respects, it almost seems like Smith and company are eager to get it out of the way on this occasion. Less powerful than one would hope, “Because the Night” gives way to a more raucous, freewheeling version of “Not Fade Away/Momento Mori,” where the tension builds organically around the conversational and smartly constructed guitar interplay of Kaye and Verlaine and there’s some real muscle in Shanahan’s bass grooves.

The inspirational, jangly rock “People Have the Power” closes the show on a high note, as singer and band rediscover that precious, potent alchemy they lost somewhere midway through the set, but well before that, going all the way back to the show’s beginning, Smith and company had the audience in the palms of their hands. The sunny hooks and breezy swing of “Redondo Beach” – contrasting lyrics laced with tragedy – exuded warmth, while the bittersweet beauty of “Beneath the Southern Cross” seemed to leave everyone transfixed. “Free Money,” with its beguiling piano intro, had the same effect, before Smith and company shook them out of their stupor by racing to the song's affecting, frenzied conclusion, with a dancing Smith calling out, “Where are the dreamers?” over and over again in a state of wild abandonment. Noisier and more aggressive, “25th Floor” might be even more chaotic and angry, and it joins “Free Money” as the explosive anthems that you wish were more prevalent in “Live at Montreux 2005." Still, there’s enough of Smith’s raw charisma and emotional intelligence here to overcome the occasional lulls. (www.eaglerockent.com)
-            Peter Lindblad

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