Patti Smith rocks Luglio Suona Bene!

Patti Smith on stage at Luglio Suona Bene

Patti Smith may have been dubbed the high priestess poet of punk and rock over the years, but whenever she performs in Rome, as she does most years, she is welcomed back to the Eternal City as nothing short of a goddess! Few bands in these difficult financial times in Italy are able to completely sell out a venue, but the open air Cavea at the Auditorium Parco della Musica was absolutely packed on Friday evening. And few artists are greeted with such thunderous, eardrum splitting cheers of adoration as they take to the stage. We love Patti and Patti, looking totally relaxed and waving and smiling, clearly loves Rome.

Opening the evening with two classic tracks from her back catalogue - Redondo Beach from her debut album Horses, followed by a stunning Dancing Barefoot from Wave - it was clear that the 65 year old Patti Smith was in fine voice. In fact, she is one of the few singers whose voice has actually improved with age - she has never sounded better! I've become quietly addicted to her absolutely wonderful new CD Banga over the past few weeks, so was thrilled when she launched quickly into one of my favourite tracks, the achingly lovely song about Amy Winehouse This is the Girl. April Fool, the most poppy sounding track on the album was followed by her haunting prayer to the victims of the Japanese Tohoku earthquake and tsunami Fuji-San.

Distant Fingers (from Radio Ethiopia) isn't performed often on tour, but the Rome audience was given a chance to hear this rare live treat, after an exhilarating Free Money with some amazing guitar work by Lenny Kaye. In a perfectly paced setlist that shifted up and down the gears, the next song turned the pace down a little with Patti on acoustic guitar on My Blakean Year, which was preceded by what sounded like a new poem set to music, in which she told the story of visiting Raphael's tomb in the Pantheon that morning and then her distress at turning into the adjacent square and discovering that the Elephant and Obelisk had been restored, removing the “tear stains” that had streaked the elephant's face. It was a lovely, intimate moment.

With Friday evening's concert happening just hours after the tragic Denver cinema shootings at the screening of the new Batman movie, she made an impassioned plea for gun regulation in her country: “nobody should be able to go into a store and buy a f***ing automatic weapon in ANY country in the world!” A show stopping version of Beneath the Southern Cross seemed to echo her feelings of anger and frustration about this event.

And then something extra special happened. Whilst her backing band - Tony Shanahan on bass and keyboards, guitarist Jack Petrucelli, Jay Dee Daugherty on drums, and long-time collaborator Lenny Kaye on guitar and vocals – launched into a medley of covers, she wandered over to a small group of fans who had broken ranks and started dancing, sat down on the edge of the stage and in a moment had jumped down and started dancing with them, and the deluge of people who suddenly rushed to get close to her!

The poignant and reflective Maria was next, her tribute to an old friend, the actress Maria Schneider, who died last year, followed by an absolutely gorgeous vocal on Pissing in a River. She teasingly introduced the next piece as an “Italian folk song” - there was an immense cheer when the first notes of her iconic signature tune Because the Night rang out instead! A reflective Peaceable Kingdom slowed the pace just for a moment, before a blistering performance of Gloria, ending with a final G-L-O-R-I-A...R-O-M-A brought the concert to a stunning close.

Deafening applause, foot stomping and cries of Patti! Patti! Patti!, however, brought her back out for an encore. Strumming an acoustic guitar and singing a few lyrics from Wave, she paid tribute to her “favourite pope” Papa Luciani (Pope John Paul I), explaining that he was a revolutionary pope, with a wonderful smile, who sadly did not live long enough to carry out his revolution. A fabulous version of Banga, the title track of her new album and new single, followed – a one chord song “so easy even a dog could f***ing play it” - thrashed out on distorted guitars, before the final anthem People Have the Power brought the evening euphorically to a close, with us all singing loud enough to raise the roof – or rather, to reach the stars, in the open air venue.

A truly memorable night!