The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter and poet did, after all, live in the Detroit environs (suburban St. Clair Shores, to be precise) from 1980-96 with her late husband, former MC5 guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith, and their two children, Jackson and Jesse. So it wasn’t surprising that those days were on her mind when Smith and company rolled into the Motor City for one of just two full-band shows in the Midwest to promote her new memoir, “Just Kids” (the other was the following night in her birthplace of Chicago).
“It’s good to be back,” Smith told the capacity crowd as she opened the 100-minute, 15-song show with her 1979 romantic elegy, “Frederick.” She also preceded “My Blakean Year” with some impressionistic, free-form verse about her experiences in Detroit, and towards the end of the show she urged her fans to “use your voice! Reclaim the city!…Move in! Move back to the city! You are fucking great!” And after the crash-and-burn ending of the furious, slow-closing “Rock N Roll Nigger,” Smith announced that “this hour of love goes to you, Fred.”
Smith wasn’t the only one sharing the love. It was a family affair since Jackson, now married to White Stripes drummer Meg White, is a full-fledged member of the Patti Smith Group; his guitar work was featured on the ethereal, jammy “Beneath the Southern Cross” — after which mom cracked “I taught him everything he knows.”
Daughter Jesse, meanwhile, opened the night with a set of hushed piano-and-vibraphone songs with musical partner Mike Campbell, and both joined the Smith Group for the anthemic “People Have the Power.”
The Detroit crowd was happy to have Smith back in any capacity, however, and was a stoked by the rest of the evening’s repertoire that spanned her career: from first-phase ’70s favorites such as “Redondo Beach,” “Free Money,” “We Three,” “Ain’t It Strange” and “Pissing in a River” to later fare like “Beneath…,” “Wing” and “My Blakean Year.”
There were surprises, too: a cover of Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died” — dedicated to the poet-rocker who died last Sept. 11 and with verses shared by Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye and bassist-keyboardist Tony Shanahan — and a rendition of the Miracles’ Motown hit “Tracks of My Tears” as a nod to Smokey Robinson’s 70th birthday.
Smith — who was in strong, emotive voice all night — preceded “Because the Night” with a story about how she fleshed out the Bruce Springsteen-started song’s lyrics while waiting for a late-arriving telephone call from Fred. And her treatment of Them’s “Gloria” exploded in its usual defiant, garage-rock-on-performance-art steroids fury.
There were no hints or even mentions of brand new material, but on this particular night Smith’s past, passionately rendered in one of her past haunts, more than sufficed.