Watching the video of the performance, a slight breakdown is evident. Yet, to viewers, it’s not as harsh as she made it sound. Smith didn’t give up. After a bashful apology, she persevered, drawing on her signature, somewhat husky vocal to deliver the song. It was flawed, perhaps, but still meaningful. The challenge of “Hard Rain” lies in the ability to get past its cachet to the emotional heft of the lyrics. Even with a mistake, Smith still delivered a captivating performance — a few months shy of her 70th birthday to boot.
When Smith comes to town next week, she’ll perform her debut album, Horses, in its entirety. “Whole album sets” have become the norm for many established rockers, but a set of Horses doesn’t have the same dubious quality as U2’s The Unforgettable Fire. Horses blended inspirations from Arthur Rimbaud, William Burroughs and Jim Morrison with garage rock (it came out in 1975, pre-dating punk rock by a year or so), and delivered it with passion that didn’t let up for 43 minutes. If any levity is needed next week, Smith could likely draw on another one of her early inspirations: Johnny Carson.