Patti Smith, as everyone knows by now, is the godmother of punk, a Llewyn Davis-like character whose insistence in the '70s on making sneering, sharp-edged music inspired a generation of boys and girls fed up with the pabulum playing on the radio.
Her music, Smiths front man Morrissey writes in his new memoir, was a revelation to a teenager growing up in dreariest England. "Patti Smith cut right through — singing and looking and saying absolutely everything that would be thought to go against the listener's sympathy."
That was a long time ago. Surely the woman who celebrated her 67th birthday this week has mellowed, right? Not exactly, judging from Smith's occasionally cacophonous New Year's Eve performance at the Hynes Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
Backed by a stellar band that included her longtime guitarist/collaborator Lenny Kaye, Smith proved that once a punk always a punk. Still wearing the androgynous togs of her youth — boots, jeans, T-shirt, and black blazer — Smith smiled sweetly before snarling, conjuring, inciting, and a few times barking during a 90-minute set that — finally — brought the subdued crowd to its feet.
"Come on, people, get up!" she demanded at one point. "What are you waiting for?"
Smith's instrument — her voice — has rarely sounded better, and was especially rich and affecting on "Pissing in a River," from her 1976 LP "Radio Ethiopa," and on a delicate rendering of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day." Reed, who died in 2013, was an early influence, and Smith dedicated "Beneath the Southern Cross" to him, making a racket worthy of the Velvet Underground.
But there were also reminders that we're not in Max's Kansas City anymore, as when Smith performed John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy," dedicating the lullaby to her grandson, and "Capital Letter," her contribution to "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" soundtrack, which she dedicated to actress Jennifer Lawrence. (#TimesTheyAreIndeedAChanging.)
Perhaps because it's her best known and most often played song, Smith delivered a somewhat lackluster rendition of "Because the Night." But she closed with the crowd-pleasing "People Have the Power" — giving shout-outs to fellow insurrectionists Edward Snowden, Pussy Riot, John Walker Lindh, and Ralph Nader — and a frantic medley of early gems "Horses" and "Gloria" that sent fans into the frosty night with a giant smile.
Dean Wareham opened with a well-chosen set of fuzzy guitar sounds spanning his career with Galaxie 500 and Luna.