One of the pantheon, then. A living, breathing cipher stood before us. In the flesh, but not much of it. Patti Smith still looks precisely like Patti Smith: a dry, wizened twig with wild, witch-wig hair. No make-over, no reinvention, just an aura that zaps you with static from 20 paces.
Smith was rock's first drag king, a tomboy in the doll's house. Her own pantheon, it has often been noted, has always been exclusively male, from 19th century novelists to beatnik poets to the Sixties rock gods (her first single was a cover of Hendrix's "Hey Joe" skewed to a woman's perspective, and it was a stage-trashing version of the Who's "My Generation" on Saturday Night Live which brought her to national attention).
Tonight's set opens with the Byrds' "So You Want to be a Rock'n'Roll Star" – Patti posing with one boot up on the monitor wedge, macho as you like – and is littered with masculine rock classics. There's the Rolling Stones "The Last Time", its lyrics unaltered ("Sorry girl, but I can't stay"), Patti clearly revelling in playing Jagger. There's Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" (an inspired choice, Cobain's fear-of-castration lyrics taking on a new meaning). And, of course, there's a staggering rendition of her astonishing sapphic reinterpretation of Them's "Gloria": "I'm gonna UH! UH! Make her mine!"
For a heterosexual mother of two, Smith has long felt the pull of a strong fascination with lesbo-eroticism ("Redondo! Beach! Is a place! Where women! Love! Other women!"), and gets one of the biggest cheers of the night when she mimics jilling herself off. Later, during "Dancing Barefoot", she takes off her shoes, then her socks, and shoves one of them into her waistband, letting it hang there, penile, limp. With her spare hand, she masturbates the mic stand. The spectacle may be comic, but the symbolism is inescapable.
The second biggest cheers come when she slips on some Lennon specs and flips open a poetry book to read Blake's "The Lamb" and her own "Babelogue"("I haven't fucked with the past, but I've fucked plenty with the future). Patti Smith is a product of that arid interregnum between the hippy and punk eras, a time when arty bohemianism was a valid response rather than a cop-out. The young Smith was a poet, associating with Shepard, Warhol, Ono and Mapplethorpe before she even had an album out. Tonight's few cringeworthy moments come when she reverts to Seventies performance art habits: standing flamingo-like on one leg, or breaking a rose and scattering more petals than the flower ever had.
Such is Smith's dualistic appeal: half cerebral and half visceral, part Dylan, part Iggy. The most effective moments come when her band, still containing Patti Smith Group veterans Jay Dee Daugherty and Lenny Kaye, let rip with some CBGB's raw power, and Patti herself whips up an improvised storm on guitar, clarinet and harmonica ("Now I've brought my repertoire to three instruments I can't play", she cackles with glee).
It's rarely acknowledged that Patti Smith has one of the great emotive, untutored rock voices, and never more so than on the beautiful "Frederick", and "Because the Night", the Springsteen-penned anthem which inadvertently provided Belinda Carlisle and Jon Bon Jovi with their entire careers.
For the closing section, Patti wears her politics on her sleeve, with the anti-imperialist epic "Gung Ho", and "People have the Power", always a trite song, but, against the backdrop of the G8 summit, apposite. The adrenalised encore of "Rock'n'Roll Nigger" mutates into a rant against globalisation. "So, we can't sign the Kyoto Treaty because Ford won't let us! George W Bush, did you hear me, motherfucker?" she screams. Even a voice like Smith's won't carry to Genoa, but this preacher remains an inspiration.
The summer of rioting also provides the context for the Respect free festival, an anti-racist all-dayer organised by Mayor Ken. It's a peculiar mix of a funfair, an anarchist bookfair and a patchy history of black music. Courtney Pine and Mis-Teeq may beg to differ, but the biggest attraction of the day are, as the compere is at pains to remind us, the first rap act to go gold, the first rap act to go platinum, and most likely the first rap act on the moon: Run DMC.
To rock a rhyme that's right on time is tricky, so they're 45 minutes late, but it's well worth the wait. A decade since they were relevant, this is an unashamed nostalgia show, a museum piece from an era before Daisy Age and G-funk, before Wu Tang and Timbaland, and before their own descent into Hell (alcoholism, dismissed rape cases), and subsequent conversion to God. Run DMC are fundamentalists, but only about hip hop. Most rap shows now give you the full funk band experience. Touchingly, Run DMC continue to place faith in two turntables and a mic, and with a cut creator as talented as Jam Master Jay.
We get a version of "It's Like That"which grudgingly cuts between the original and the Jason Nevins' remake (they reportedly hate his mix, although it can't have done the bank balance any harm), "Rock Box", "King of Rock", "It's Tricky", "Mary Mary" and an audience screamalong of "Walk this Way". It's a set that reminds you that this trio changed the sound of hip hop, dropping huge slabs of heavy metal guitar over old skool beats.Reuse content