"My God, you're sexy," hollers one particularly amorous fan early on in Patti Smith's set as part of the Meltdown festival. Somewhat surprisingly for the woman often referred to as the punk poetess she responds by getting out her green Gumby toy, holding it up to her face and saying in a squeaky, childish voice: "That's very kind, but she's mine."

And this coming from the singer that named her first single 'Piss Factory'.

Fortunately, Smith still has the power to surprise. And surrounded by the likes of Tom Verlaine, Lenny Kaye and Jay Dee Daugherty she can still produce a captivating event that can still show younger artists and groups just how it should be done.

A cover of Bob Dylan's 'Like a Rolling Stone' gets the evening underway and while a competent rendition it sounds like the musicians are struggling somewhat to get the stone rolling.

The pace though soon ignites with songs like 'Dancing Barefoot' and 'Pissing in a River' - the latter sees Ed Harcourt brought in on the piano. Smith is in powerful, confident form and clearly enjoying being there. Verlaine is also a powerful presence, not in a visual sense as he effectively keeps out of the limelight by sitting towards the back of the stage. Musically though his input is essential as he wrings out some beautifully crafted but unflashy solos.

Covers of two Rolling Stones songs get an airing: 'Not Fade Away' and 'Salt of the Earth' and the band do them more justice than the opening Dylan cover. Jagger and co's homage to the "hard-working people" never really rang true considering Jagger's own middle-class upbringing but at least Smith's had experience of the trudgery of manual labour. Both songs though simply see the band enjoying themselves. Even at one point Smith clambers down from the stage and starts dancing with the audience at the front.

Elsewhere, 'Beneath the Southern Cross', 'Peaceable Kingdom' (dedicated to those who lost their lives in the Iraq war) and 'Gandhi' .

Steve Earle had earlier put in a strong resume of his career as a sort of protest singer from 'The Devil's Right Hand' to 'Rich Man's War'. Earle's performance was certainly worth a listen but it hardly set things ablaze. He returns though for the encores of 'Transcendental Blues', 'Copperhead Road' and 'Salt of the Earth' and puts in a more confident performance as part of a larger group.

With tickets at a pricey £25 Smith had to pull off something rather special. Fortunately, it certainly was.

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Commenting On: Royal Festival Hall, London, 19/6/2005 - Patti Smith and Steve Earle

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