Patti Smith’s Horses: Live at Electric Lady Studios doesn’t sound like a live album, and that’s a good thing. Too many concert recordings sound surprisingly flat. Even the most adventurous band can suffer from an audio engineer sticking mics in front of the amps and then leaning back while the tapes roll, ultimately making a glorified bootleg.
The new version of Horses, meanwhile, benefits from being live album cut in a recording studio in front of an audience. Smith and her bandmates celebrated the 40th anniversary of her breakthrough debut last year with a performance of the whole record before a small yet excitable crowd of fans and VIPs (Michael Stipe, Liv Tyler, Dakota Johnson) in the mythic space where she originally recorded it, New York City’s Jimi Hendrix–founded Electric Lady Studios.
Their new versions can be raucous (“Gloria”), resplendent (“Break It Up”), morose (“Free Money”) and sobering (“Elegie”). Smith warbles, growls, hollers and speaks with dramatic effect throughout, as guitarist Lenny Kaye wrests bluesy phrases from his instrument, making each song sound inspired and fresh. The rest of the band – drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, bassist-keyboardist Tony Shanahan and keyboardist-guitarist-bassist Jack Petruzzelli – makes the music swell around Smith’s voice. But the best thing about it is the way it sounds on vinyl, the medium Electric Lady chose to release it on in an effort to preserve its fidelity.
Other than crowd noise at the beginnings and ends of songs – a positive side effect of a reverent audience – it sounds like a studio album, but with the unbridled energy of a concert. The sound of the guitars travels between speakers for a more psychedelic impact than the original studio album, and the whole experience is crystal clear, from the squeak of Kaye’s guitar pick striking his strings to Smith’s vocal intricacies.
Smith was in her late 20s when she recorded Horses. Now, in her late 60s, her voice has taken on more depth and grit, deepening the power of every song. You can hear her panting before the final “Gloria” (a surprise at the end of “Land”), and you can hear the tickle in her throat when she raves, “Tonight is a night to party/ We want to have a good time” in “Land.” It’s an album resurrected and living dangerously.