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Radio Ethiopia: Everything you love most about Patti Smith in this incendiary 1976 concert video
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Patti Smith
Radio Ethiopia: Everything you love most about Patti Smith in this incendiary 1976 concert video

Videotaped recordings of early Patti Smith concerts tend to be well, scarce for one and when they do exist, they’ve almost always been amateurishly shot on some sort of crappy video format like B&W half-inch open reel tape. Most of the time you can tell that the master recording was poor to begin with. I can count the number of high quality early Patti Smith shows, ones with good audio, professional camerawork, multi-cameras, etc. that I’ve seen from the first years of her career at… one and I saw it yesterday for the first time. From the rock snob high I got from it, like a fine wine I think it was probably worth the wait.

During an era when a bohemian weirdo like Patti Smith actually could get on Saturday Night Live or The Mike Douglas Show or even on Kids Are People, Too for a guest shot, there was still practically zero chance of seeing a full set of the Patti Smith Group on American television. Let us thank the gods that when Smith played Stockholm’s Konserthuset on October 3, 1976 supporting Radio Ethiopia, that the Swedes were there to record it for posterity.

There’s an interview before the music starts that gets to the essence of what makes Patti Smith so great, and what made her work seem so exciting, inspiring and utterly revolutionary at the time.

Radio Ethiopia is the name of our new record and it represents to us a naked field wherein anyone can express themselves. It’s a free radio, ya know. We’re the DJ’s. The people are the DJ’s. When we perform “Radio Ethiopia,” I play guitar. I don’t know how to play guitar, but I just get in a perfect rhythm and I play, I don’t care. And the people are allowed to do as they wish. If it’s a really good show, there’s like a thousand, 10,000, 50,000 people. 50,000 minds, 50,000 sub-consciousnesses that I can dip into. I mean, the more people submit and the more I submit, the greater show it’s going to be, the greater we’re going to be. I mean, I don’t like audiences who sit there and act cool like this—“pfft”—because nothing’s going to happen.

If you are a Patti Smith fan, prepare to watch what is undoubtedly the best long form record we have of The Patti Smith Group from their early days, maybe the best full show period. Smith is in her full on Mick Jagger meets Rimbaud mode and she kills it here, just kills it. There are two Velvet Underground covers—the band walks onstage and starts up with “We’re Gonna Have a Real Good Time Together” and later does “Pale Blue Eyes.” There’s also a Stones cover “Time Is On My Side” before Patti straps on a guitar for a rather incendiary, you might say Dionysian take on “Radio Ethiopia” at the 38 minute mark.

Posted by Richard Metzger
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