Patti Smith
Credit: Karen Sheinheit

Patti Smith hasn’t released a new album since 2012’s Banga, but the Chicago-born punk singer and poet has stayed extremely active as a photographer, activist, and author. She’s published six books in the past decade, and her latest, 2019’s Year of the Monkey, is a riveting memoir. Set in 2016, it’s a picaresque ramble through dreamscapes where a trickster-like motel sign sends her on side quests and asks leading questions while she navigates aging, a new artistic phase, and the passing of two dear longtime friends, playwright and actor Sam Shepard and producer, rock critic, and songwriter Sandy Pearlman. Honoring lost loved ones has been a recurring theme in Smith’s work since she came out of semi-retirement in the mid-90s following the deaths of her husband, guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith (of the MC5 and Sonic’s Rendezvous Band), and of her brother and manager, Todd Smith. In Year of the Monkey, the melancholy of Smith’s devotion to and continued communication with the dearly departed is mitigated by an almost joyous lightness. She delves into the kind of glorious symbolist- and Beat-influenced flights of wordcraft that helped her rise to fame in the 1970s, and the decades since her earliest albums have given her work more weight and depth than ever. 

Smith’s next book, a visual collection titled Book of Days (due in November), will be drawn largely from her popular Instagram account, which she uses to share art, photographs, poetry, political thoughts, and memories that invite people into the ingeniously arranged jumble sale of her mind. Smith isn’t the only author in her band, though. In October, her collaborator of more than 50 years, guitarist and music historian Lenny Kaye, released his latest book, Lightning Striking: Ten Transformative Moments in Rock and Roll. It explores defining events in rock history, starting with a notorious Cleveland showcase hosted by Alan Freed in 1952 and culminating with the rise of grunge in Seattle after Nirvana broke into the mainstream in 1991. In the “New York 1975” chapter, Kaye writes movingly of Smith’s ability to captivate an audience with her poetry and her cadences. Nearly half a century later, Smith continues to be a commanding presence onstage, and her strength allows her to embrace vulnerability. In 2016 she accepted the Nobel Prize on behalf of Bob Dylan, who couldn’t attend the ceremony. She was so nervous before the committee that she flubbed a line in Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” (which I’m pretty sure she can normally sing in her sleep). Smith apologized, started over, and then delivered a majestic performance that raised maximum goose bumps with its hard-fought humanity. This concert at Metro is part of an ambitious spring and summer tour, and Smith’s set lists from previous shows have included a mix of new and classic material, along with some deep cuts. In an interview with the Guardian last month, she said she’d like to make one more album; at 75, she clearly has an eye toward her legacy, and she’s facing down this period of her life with her characteristic unflinching wits.

Patti Smith and Her Band Wed 5/4, 8 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, sold out, 18+