As part of a performance of her debut album Horses in the studio where she recorded it, Patti Smith sang her beatific cover of Them’s “Gloria” twice. The first time was as the set opener, in which she transitioned from reading the poem off an LP copy of the record into the full-on punk explosion that was the album’s only single. The small audience was rapt. But it was the second time – deep into the record’s three-movement penultimate track “Land” – when it became transcendent: Smith stepped off the small stage, onto a couch and shoved the mic into the face of a fan to sing “Gloooriaaa” euphorically before hugging him. The fan was Michael Stipe.
The former R.E.M. frontman was one of only a hundred or so fans invited to Wednesday’s concert, a celebration of New York City’s Electric Lady Studio, which Jimi Hendrix had opened 45 years ago to the day. Although the “Purple Haze” singer spent only about a month recording in the studio before his death, the room has gone on to welcome Kiss, U2 and Daft Punk, among many others over the years. And it’s in the Greenwich Village building’s Studio B where Smith and her Group recorded the monumental punk blueprint Horses with John Cale in September 1975.
Four decades later, Smith and guitarist Lenny Kaye both sport long, gray hair but otherwise had a sprightly energy about them onstage in Electric Lady’s Studio A that suggested they felt no different than when they were in the building originally. The 68-year-old singer, who wore an Electric Lady T-shirt under her signature black vest and jacket, sounded almost invariably the same as she did on the record, howling its highs and carefully enunciating words during its more poetic, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” moments. She also spit on the stage several times throughout the set as if it were CBGB.
The room itself was dimly lit and the stage was set up in front of a glass wall separating it from the mixing booth – drummer Jay Dee Daugherty played in an isolation booth on stage left – and Smith’s copy of Horses, a poetry book and some of her lyrics were leaning against the glass. A mix of fans and music industry types, who generally skewed toward the younger side, as well as a few artists and celebrities, including Stipe, Liv Tyler, Dakota Johnson and Arcade Fire’s Win Butler filed in as the group took the stage around 8:30.
For a little over an hour, Smith and her bandmates – who have already been performing Horses live around the world in celebration of its 40th anniversary – triumphantly revisited its eight tracks and extending them to make for rousing jams. In the break between “Free Money” and “Kimberly,” she joked that it was time to turn the record over to side B. And she had fun with the audience, telling a woman up front that she was allowed to put her pocketbook by the stage and joking that she was an interior designer. “If anybody’s uncomfortable or wants to sit down, it’s OK, I’ll make you get up later,” she told the audience, which laughed in response.