People Have the Power

Patti Smith, 53-year-old mother of two, is still ready for revolution

Her new one, Gung Ho, finds her more optimistic, something you pick up on just from the title. It's a far more rock album than either Gone Again or Peace and Noise, and she seems ready to take on the world again ("New Party" rails against politicians with classic Smith vitriol: "Why don't you/Fertilize my lawn/With what's running from your mouth?"). "Libbie's Song" is a gentle little country/folk song, in which Smith warbles her best Mother Maybelle along to the screech and ring of fiddles and mandolins. There are eulogies to Mother Teresa ("One Voice") and Jerry Garcia ("Grateful"), and Smith reveals her admiration for Ho Chi Minh in a theme running throughout the disc. It's a good album, but there are flaws, particularly the tedious 11-minute-and-45-second title track about Ho, an aural quagmire seemingly as long as the Vietnam War itself.

What's also setting Smith off these days is one of her old enemies: bad, shallow music—people out there disrespecting the Rock. Now it's mainly the corporations she's after. Gung Ho's "Glitter in Their Eyes" savages the current rock-as-marketing-device trend ("Our sacred stage/Has been defaced/Replaced to grace/ The marketplace") and advertisers who view young people as consumers rather than multidimensional human beings ("They'll trade you up/Trade you down/Your body/A commodity"). On "Glitter in Their Eyes," Smith completes a circle, returning to the reason she got into music in the first place. She never says directly that it's time for some sort of new punk rock to drop—whatever that would be—but you know that's what she's getting at.

One moment from Smith's set at last month's South by Southwest music fest in Austin, Texas, is worth revisiting. After an enthralling, balls-out two-hour set that recalled her prime '70s shows, after most of Gung Ho, after "Dancing Barefoot" and "Free Money" and "Redondo Beach" and "Pissing in a River," this 53-year-old mother of two took the Vietnamese flag that was draped over an amp, wrapped it around her head, jabbed the cold night air with the neck of her Fender Strat, and screamed to 4,000 people, most of them Texans (a state where it's legal to carry concealed firearms), "You want a gun? HERE'S YOUR FUCKING GUN RIGHT HERE!" Then she slowly snapped all six strings.

Rock & roll as a dangerous, populist weapon? It could happen again, if only we let it. People have the power!

Patti Smith at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 712-2700. Wed., 8 p.m. $30.
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