In late 2015, Patti Smith performed Horses in its entirety at New York City’s Electric Lady Studios for a small crowd of fans, rock critics and indie celebrities. Most of the crowd attempted to exude a seen-it-all cool while watching the master punk poet at work in close quarters that night; naturally, no one succeeded. By the time it was over, people who write for a living were left fumbling for words.
Part of what made her performance of an album older than most people in attendance so exhilarating was that unlike many a “classic album front-to-back” concert, this one found the auteur tweaking, updating and embellishing the LP. While Horses has never not felt vital during its 40-plus years on earth, it was especially alive that night.
Fortunately, that live performance of Horses — recorded at Electric Lady Studios for its 45th anniversary on Aug. 26, 2015 — finds its way onto wax this Record Store Day (April 16) as the inaugural release of Electric Lady Records (the label plans to release other “Live at Electric Lady” concerts in the future). And luckily, the vast majority of Smith’s electricity in the studio that night has permeated the Horses: Live at Electric Lady Studios LP.
While Smith’s voice on the 1975 “Gloria” cops a youthful sneer, Smith’s voice on the 21st century “Gloria” turns into an outright snarl. Similarly, her delivery of “Land” on this LP goes beyond punk — she bellows parts of the song like an angry prophet. If Patti on Horses 1975 inspired awe, Patti on this Horses inspires awe and a small amount of fear. This new take on “Land” finds her rewriting her lyrics, too, riffing on how the character of Johnny would exist in the 21st century. Smith sings of Johnny watching “the withering of trees, the dying of fish, the dying of whales” on this new version. But unlike many an aging rocker in 2016, her concerns with the modern world never veer into crotchety griping. The new lyrics find her regarding the 21st century with skepticism, but also understanding: “He sees surveillance cameras everywhere he walks,” she growls, but adds, “And he sees the reason for that.” Similarly, she talks of the “curse” of new technology, but also its “grace.”
In another departure from the album version of “Land,” Smith closes out the song with a fiery return to the chorus of “Gloria.” While the concert-opening “Gloria” was invigorating, the second go-round was a gloriously cathartic release of all the pent-up, anxious energy she mined in “Land.” (It almost makes you wish she’d included a “Gloria” refrain on “Land” back in 1975.)
On album closer “Elegie,” Smith extends her lovely dirge into a sort of punk-rock Litany of Saints, where she reads off the names of various deceased musical iconoclasts. Kurt Cobain, Dee Dee Ramone, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, her late husband Fred “Sonic” Smith, Ornette Coleman, Lou Reed — the list goes on, and sadly, in the half year since then, there are plenty of names to add to it.
“To create, to love, to feel joy, to feel joy in this fucking world,” is one of the new lines Smith spits out on this album. This LP proves she’s still doing all of those things — and inspiring others to do the same in the process.