This was pretty much the opposite of how George Bush would want to spend the anniversary of September 11: with one of his most outspoken critics celebrating an artist obsessed with S&M. To begin, Patti Smith emerged in her trademark androgynous suit, famous from photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's cover for her classic album Horses. She recited, simply, numbers of the dead on that day five years ago and killed in conflict since. Then the punk icon crumpled her notes as she intoned a list of "inestimables", the broken families and shattered lives.
Tonight, though, was about her friend and sometime lover Mapplethorpe, honoured in Smith's prose elegy The Coral Sea. She and the guitar maestro Kevin Shields first improvised around it as part of the 2005 Meltdown festival. Now the pair reunited to record it in what would have been the photographer's 60th year.
The first part of the evening was dedicated to songs old and new, such as a lullaby for Smith's son Jackson recorded in Mapplethorpe's presence. The rambling introductions to such numbersleft us impatient for more music, especially given the impressive change when she began to perform and the words captured her.
Hardest hitting was "Qana", a mourning of Lebanon's children killed in recent attacks. Smith was at pains to point out that this was not a political song, rather the response of a mother to another's loss. You could hardly say the same of "Without Chains", which brought to life Murat Kurnaz, a German resident held for four years in Guantanamo Bay and released without charge.
Cellist Giovanni Sollima provided expressive tones alongside Smith's subtle bass player and pianist Tony Shanahan, while Spiritualized mainman Jason Pierce appeared to back the singer's own rusty guitar playing. Her most effective instrument was a voice even more powerful without its usual trad rock backing. A youthful Shields also joined in, hunched over a leather sofa under a standard lamp.
A boat journey told the story of Mapplethorpe's life, though with its bewildering twists and turns, the tale only hit home when Smith got visceral and described him vomiting his own flesh. It was Dylan Thomas's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" for the Aids generation. Her sonorous delivery matched Shield's increasingly edgy shards, and when she lay down on a settee beside his, she was as spent as the rest of us.Reuse content