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Smith finished up her time with us by playing five songs, and was accompanied by her bassist, Tony Shanahan. Her singing and playing (that one-chord! that beautiful D-chord!) were energized and soulful. After having spent the last hour hearing so much about her influences, many of them friends and artists who had passed away, the songs were imbued with even more meaning. She led off with "In My Blakean Year" and told us that this song came about because, "I dreamed it and when I woke up, I was singing it."
Then came a song dedicated to Amy Winehouse ("This is the Girl") and one to Roberto Bolaño ("Beneath the Southern Cross") and "Banga." Smith finished with a rousing "People Have the Power" after shouting to her audience, "C'mon, all you intellectuals! Anyone can play one-chord! Anyone can be an asshole!" Which was funny, and no doubt true, but kind of an easy thing to say to a bunch of people at the New Yorker Festival.
But it was during "Banga," as she sang the lyric about how "the paw is pressed against the nerve of the sky" that Patti Smith—the tormented, haunted, hilarious Patti Smith—came through the clearest, singing into the lights that she told us blinded her, singing about how "you can leave him twice, but he won't leave you." Singing about memory and loss and love and death to all of us, sitting there, in a luxury car showroom in what used to be called Hell's Kitchen.
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