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article imagePatti Smith: An unrepentant iconoclast plays in an iconic venue Special

By Elka Weinstei     Sep 8, 2013 in Entertainment
Toronto - I missed Patti Smith’s Camera Solo show, and the sold-out First Thursday concert at the AGO in March, but Friday night’s concert at Massey Hall was a blast! Here are my impressions of the concert - and a postscript about the venue.
I have to admit, that except for her biggest hits, I don’t know Patti Smith’s musical oeuvre very well. I was too young in the ‘70s to really appreciate American punk rock, although I did kind of know about the scene, and did eventually pick up on the British punk wave through ska. It all seemed kind of excessive, and revolt for the sake of revolution was out of step in the ‘80s when I started seriously listening to rock’n roll. That said, Patti Smith is an icon of those years, and when I heard that we’d got tickets to her concert I was thrilled. I was doubly thrilled when I heard that the concert was at Massey Hall (also an icon), since that venerable spot is scheduled to be renovated next year (more about that below).
Patti Smith last played Massey Hall in December 1976, and she reminisced about that concert, and about how much she loves the hall, while mentioning that her gal, Maria Callas, had also sung there. 1976 was the year that Patti released Radio Ethiopia, her second album, and the band she was playing with then included her guitarist, Lenny Kaye, and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, both central to her lineup then and now.
So, the concert…the crowd was lively, the beer was flowing freely, and the place was pretty crowded for a Friday night during the Toronto International Film Festival. I was a bit surprised when the band came out because they simply walked onto the stage, no fanfare, no announcements, just some cheers and whistles from the fans, who immediately got to their feet. Patti herself seemed unremarkable – an elderly woman in a white t-shirt covered with a dark jacket, beat-up jeans, a worn-out pair of boots and with a dark-blue toque over her straggly long hair. Until the second or third song I still didn’t get why her fans love her - she warmed up to the hall and the crowd slowly - but once she (and the band) got going I understood: Patti Smith is an unabashed old-school rocker. She is also a really talented performer, and an unrepentant iconoclast.
And we loved it, the crowd cheered her on, we all danced, we sang along with her anthems, and when she left the stage so that the band could showcase their own talents (stellar guitar and bass, and incredible drumming) she danced in the aisles with us.
Patti Smith is also a poet and a performance artist, so when she read poetry from sheets of paper and then tossed them onto the stage, and used her hands in most eloquent gestures to illustrate musical points, it just made the crowd happier. She sang odes to the ones who didn’t make it (Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse) and didn’t miss a beat when she told us that she loved Nicole Kidman’s hair and freckles.
The night ended with a chorus of “Gloria” and a shout-out against Obama’s plan to invade Syria. Patti pulls no punches, and she pulls it off with style and in-your-face grace.
A note about Massey Hall:
Panorama shot of Massey Hall
Panorama shot of Massey Hall
Ian Muttoo
Massey Hall, designed by architect Sidney Badgley in the Palladian style, opened in 1894. The 2,765-seater concert hall was commissioned by Hart A. Massey as a memorial to his eldest son, Charles Albert Massey, who died at 35 of typhoid fever. Massey Hall has been a National Historic Site since 1981. Many famous musicians have performed onstage, including Maria Callas, Enrico Caruso, George Gershwin, Glenn Gould, Vladimir Horowitz, Gordon Lightfoot, Luciano Pavarotti, Neil Young, Oscar Peterson, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, and Arturo Toscanini. It was the site of a legendary Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie concert in 1953. Accompanying Gillespie and Parker were Bud Powell, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. In June 1976, Rush recorded the live album All the World's a Stage, which immediately went platinum.
This year, Massey Hall is scheduled to begin a $35-million renovation. The revitalization is a public-private partnership, in which architects KPMB (the Gardiner Museum, the National Ballet Building) will be working with MOD Developers on the project. The Hall will get a six-storey addition on the back, providing additional back-of-house space for performers, crew, and support staff. There will be new office space, and a much-needed stage loading dock (all equipment and sets are currently loaded in through the front entrance on Shuter Street), as well as elevators, washrooms, and lounge areas. The building will have a 60-storey condo (the Massey Tower) at the back. Phase 1 of the project is scheduled to start this year with the demolition of the 1894 Albert Building. The fire-escape, where Enrico Caruso sang an impromptu aria for his fans at his last concert in Toronto, will be taken down, and modern glass walkways will be added to the front façade.
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