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Patti Smith 

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PATTI SMITH

Gung Ho (Arista) is the first Patti Smith album without a picture of Patti Smith on the cover: instead she's used an old photo of her father, in his World War II uniform. It's a significant gesture, because ever since her 1996 comeback, Gone Again--which, I'll blasphemously argue, is the best record she's ever made--Smith has been stepping progressively further outside herself and thinking more globally. This new outlook is why so many of her fans are torn between the desire to canonize her and the desire to give her a good shaking: she occasionally broadens her perspective so much you can't make out any details, and some of Gung Ho's less distinguished songs suffer from an overload of flat exhortations like "Awake people arise." But when she gets personal with history, she's as audacious and idiosyncratic as ever, taking on a wild series of personas--Salome ("Lo and Beholden"), George Custer's widow (the lovely "Libbie's Song," a nod to the Appalachian sound and themes of loss on much of Gone Again), an African-American ghost excoriating her descendants for spitting on the struggles of their forebears by smoking crack (the free-form verbal flight that climaxes "Strange Messengers"). Most gloriously, for the album's finale she delivers a nearly 12-minute, spiraling, eerie, take-no-prisoners meditation on Ho Chi Minh and the necessary moral ambiguity of revolution. Who else could do that on a major label in this day and age? None of this is well served by the lyric sheet or even the disc, of course: it's all best live, where Smith's committed performance and awesome authority and charisma can--as I found out walking to her free outdoor concert in Austin earlier this spring--raise goose bumps at 200 yards. Her current band, which includes two three-decade veterans, guitarist Lenny Kaye and drummer Jay Dee Daugherty, and two relative newcomers, guitarist Oliver Ray and bassist Tony Shanahan, is less ragged than a few years ago, and their playing on the CD is for the most part workmanlike midtempo rock--they do their job and get out of the woman's way. Saturday, 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212. MONICA KENDRICK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Frank Swider.

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