Patti Smith and Kevin Shields at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 11th September 2006
Last night, five years to the day after September 11, NYC’s Patti Smith stood in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, reading out statistics of those killed on that day, and the thousands more in the subsequent War on Terror. Meanwhile, eerie footage of the Manhattan skyline shot that night by her film-maker friend Jem Cohen played in the background. The night was never going to be a barrel of laughs, but the tone lightened for the first half, with Patti performing tunes old and new, backed with cello and piano, and Spiritualized’s Jason Pierce. After the interval, erstwhile MBV guitar maestro Kevin Shields joined her for a reprise of last year’s Meltdown performance of “The Coral Sea”, Smith’s poems in memory of her great friend the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, who died of AIDS in 1989. But you found yourself drifting from her performance, vitriolic as it was, to Shields’ hypnotic layers and loops, and towards the end, as she lay back drained, he perched on a sofa, his feet playing a tangle of effects pedals like those on a church organ, casually whipping everything into a final sonic storm, before ambling offstage, presumably to get back to his pressing schedule of doing bugger all. Stunning stuff… and it’s a crying shame that only Patti, Primal Scream and Sofia Coppola’s music director have been able to encourage him to do anything at all over the last 15 years. (Incidentally, Smith is also collaborating with the Alison Jacques Gallery on an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work, focusing on his film work but also showing unique and early images of them both. It’s on until October 7, here http://www.alisonjacquesgallery.com/06_mapplethorpe.php.