On Feb. 24, Patti Smith stepped on The Capitol Theatre stage for the first time. Greeting the audience at the historic Port Chester, New York venue with humor, jokingly feeling for a lost Metro Card in her jacket pocket, Smith lifted the evening out of the heaviness hanging over the day. “I would be lying if I said I wasn’t affected by what is happening in the world,” said Smith at the beginning of the set, referencing the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier in the day. “There are people losing their fucking country tonight. Peace as we know it is over in Europe.”
Smith, along with longtime band members guitarist Lenny Kaye, bassist Tony Shanahan and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, along with Jack Petruzzelli on guitar, was determined to create a night of magic and music, at a show originally scheduled on December 30, 2021, her 75th birthday, but was postponed around an increase in coronavirus cases.
The night also marked another milestone, the first time Smith and her band ever performed at the Capitol, which reopened in 2021 after 10 years of closure, and already housed some of her earlier contemporaries like The Ramones, Blondie, and Iggy Pop, as well as Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Elvis Costello, and The Grateful Dead. The latter was gifted with “Grateful” during the set, a song Smith wrote on Aug. 9, 1995, the day Dead singer Jerry Garcia, whose presence was palpable inside the theater in framed photos, art and a bar and a lounge recently christened Garcia’s, died.
Moving through a 16-song set, Smith poked through her catalog from “25th Floor,” off her 1978 release, Easter, and tapping back further to the ’75 debut Horses with “Kimberly,” a song she wrote about the birth of her younger sister. Running through Wave track “Dancing Barefoot,” Smith said the next song was one she said wrote for her boyfriend at the time. “He was a really cool boyfriend,” said Smith, “and husband, my husband Fred,” before “Because the Night,” and revisited Horses again with “Free Money” and her mother’s lifelong dream of winning the lottery.
Fans pilgrimaged in from New York City and the greater metropolitan, including longtime fan Rick McEvilly, who drove in from New Jersey. “I’m a fan since ‘Horses,’ said McEvilly, who remembers his favorite Patti Smith show in 1978 on Thanksgiving Day at the now-defunct Bottom Line in New York City. “She was wearing green Everlast boxing shorts, and John Cale [Velvet Underground] was on keyboards,” added McEvilly. “Then she came over and started drinking people’s drinks, and no one complained.”
Midway through, Kaye and Shanahan took over for a Velvet Underground medley of “Rock & Roll,” “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and “White Light/White Heat,” before Smith’s daughter Jesse, who joined the band on keyboards for several songs, surprised her mother with a birthday cake adorned with a lighted “75” candle, as everyone in the theater sang a belated “Happy Birthday.”
Throughout the evening, the density of the war loomed, but there was a light music, even a surprising cover on U2’s “Vertigo.” Smith returned for an encore alone, singing a stirring cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Blame It On the Sun,” acapella, followed by “People Have the Power,” switching up lyrics People have the power to dream, to vote, to strike.
Just three nights later, Smith would join Kaye for his belated 75th birthday concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City—both were born in 1946, three days apart—a longtime spot of her annual New Year’s Eve shows. There, Smith would sing the Ukrainian national anthem, “Shche ne Vmerla Ukrainy i slava, i volia” (“Glory and Freedom of Ukraine has not yet Perished”), once again acapella.
“We are free fucking people,” said Smith to the Capitol crowd at the end of the set. “Don’t lose heart. Together we can do anything. Motherfuckers, we’re alive.”
Patti Smith, Capitol Theatre, Port Chester, NY Set List
1. “25th Floor”
4. “Ghost Dance”
5. “Free Money”
6. “My Blakean Year”
8. “Beneath the Southern Cross”
9. “Rock & Roll” / “I’m Waiting for the Man” / “White Light/White Heat”
10. “Dancing Barefoot”
11. “We Three”
12. “Because the Night”
13. “Pissing in a River”
15. “Blame It on the Sun”
16. “People Have the Power”
Photo: Tina Benitez-Eves