Maybe Patti Smith, the punk poet laureate, thought her concert was turning into a college-auditorium recital of her landmark debut album, 1975’s “Horses.”
Suddenly, she spit on the stage of Northrop Auditorium on Wednesday night at the University of Minnesota. She was in the middle of the spoken-word intro to “Land,” a pivotal song on one of rock’s essential albums. She hurled an epithet. She repeated herself, imploring. And once again.
Boom! Bam! She punched the air. One! Two!
“If you do the Watusi!” she belted, her spoken-word giving over to frenzied singing.
This was the urgency of 1975, this was the vitality of Smith, this was “Horses” in full gallop and glory.
This is why a sell-out crowd came to its feet and roared for the woman who liberated rock ’n’ roll from the singer-songwriter craft of Carole, Joni and Carly. This is the heroine who put poetry and politics to hard-driving punk and catchy reggae. This is the woman who kicked down the doors for Madonna, Courtney Love and Shirley Manson, not to mention the guys from R.E.M., U2 and the Smiths.
The rest of “Horses” was hardly a rote recitation. “Birdland” was revamped and extended, with Smith reading the new poetic intro from a sheet of paper. The closing “Elegie” made room for the mention of other recently departed souls — David Bowie, George Michael and Prince — though Smith had explained that the song was written about Jimi Hendrix.
She took time during “Horses” to tell back stories, such as the one about “Break It Up” being inspired by a dream she had in which Jim Morrison was an angel entrapped in a statue and he broke free and fluttered away.
While the re-creation of “Horses” in its entirety did not feel as consistently transcendent as previous Twin Cities concerts by Smith, the hourlong album and the ensuing 50 minutes of music showed the New Yorker to be more human than heroine.
Some of her youthful fury had been replaced by silver-haired wisdom. She dusted off “Citizen Ship,” a 1979 number that she hadn’t performed in years. After her son, Jackson Smith, kicked it off with some insistent guitar, she sang the first line and halted the song.
“That’s right. I’m trying to relive my triumph in Stockholm,” she joked, referring to her forgetting the lyrics mid-song to Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize for literature ceremony honoring him.
Then she tore into the scorching “Citizen Ship” with authority and venom, ending with the spoken rant, “We came as refugees and immigrants. We built our lives on the shoulders of others. Should we not offer our shoulders as well?”
Yes, Smith came with a message, a message of love and humanity. She did vocal impressions of Dylan, Chris Farley and her own mom, whom she honored on what was International Women’s Day. She saluted Prince with an understated reading of his “When Doves Cry,” complete with the kind of spoken-word passage that only Smith can do.
As she has long done, the Rock Hall of Famer tried to ignite the crowd with “People Have the Power,” her anthem from 1988, but it didn’t quite galvanize the crowd, a mix of baby boomers and lots of millennials, like it had at previous Smith performances.
Instead, she turned to the Who’s classic “My Generation” to incite these multi-generations of fans. She pointed out that she and President Donald Trump are the same age, 70, and she will not behave.
She held an electric guitar up high and declared it the “greatest weapon of my generation.” She then ripped the strings off her guitar and agitated like a classic punk rocker. “These are the chimes of freedom,” she declared as her four-man band roared on. “We must misbehave in a loving way. Are you ready for love?”
Punk rock never sounded so wise, elegant and loving.