It’s not often that a musical legend celebrates their birthday with a sold-out show in the town they were born in. Yet, on December 30, the mother of punk rock herself did just that. Patti Smith and 2,500 of her closest fans rang in her 70th birthday with confetti, cake, and songs from her most iconic album, Horses. Released in 1975, the album received mild commercial acclaim at the time, but it has since been regarded as one of the most important albums in American punk rock. Smith’s take on “Gloria”—originally a track written by Van Morrison in the 1960s—opens with lines written by Smith herself: “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.”
When Smith walked on stage at The Riviera Theatre in Chicago, she wore a simple suit jacket, half-laced combat boots, and a long necklace with a cross. Flashing her iconic warm smile, she greeted the audience by shouting, “Chicago! The amazing place of my birth!” Glancing into the eclectic crowd, from college-aged fans to those who might have celebrated their 70th birthday in 2016 as well, no one was on their phone or taking shoddy photos; instead, all eyes were on the icon at center stage, singing those famous opening words to “Gloria.”
Regaling the audience with Horses, Smith’s bravado seemed to get stronger with every song. Her band (many of whom are from the original lineup) played every song with fervor and passion. As the evening began to come to a close, it was clear no one wanted to leave. Michael Stipe, lead singer of R.E.M., surprised the audience and helped lead an amazing rendition of “Power To The People” before presenting Smith with a birthday cake. As the audience sang “Happy Birthday” to the rafters, The Riv released a seemingly infinite stream of confetti. The look on Patti Smith’s face, one of complete shock and joy, was the highlight of the evening. For everyone at this show, it was a night that will be remembered for another 70 years.