For the past several years, the Smithereens have been little more than a decent cover band/bar band, as they inexplicably churned out their own track-by track renditions of the Who’s “Tommy” and the Beatles’ “Meet the Beatles.”
And that’s a shame because back in the ’80s, the Jersey foursome whipped up some mighty fine pop music – dark, bruised, haunting songs that were chockful of big fat hooks on loan from the vast repertoire of ’60s British Invasion bands.
At the Empire State Plaza Food Festival on Wednesday night, singer Pat Dinizio and his bandmates showed glimmers of that old glory – just not enough to earn them their headline status.
Dinizio’s between song patter was embarrassingly cloying, but his voice is still in good shape. And guitarist Jim Babjak and woefully under-rated drummer Dennis Diken managed to instill some serious rock ‘n’ roll passion in fave old nuggets like the opening “Only a Memory,” the chugging “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and especially the ominous “Blood and Roses,” with its relentless, powerhouse bassline provided by the quartet’s only non-original member, Severo “The Thrilla from Manilla” Jornacion.
Surprisingly though, none of those tunes (or any of the other ones that they played during their 85-minute set) seemed to generate much of a reaction from the small crowd until the show-closing “A Girl Like You” veered off into the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” at which point the entire crowd came alive and sang along. Sad, sad, sad…
Truthfully, Super 400 should have been headlining the show. The super-charged Troy power trio came on like gangbusters with Joe Daley slamming out the backbeat. Kenny Hohman’s soulful Steve Winwood-meets-Jack Bruce vocals were every bit as potent as his razor-edged guitar work, especially on “Blast the Message” and an inspired cover of Blind Faith’s “In the Presence of the Lord.”
And although bassist Lori Friday only stepped up to handle two lead vocals, one of them – the hook-filled “Flashlight” – is the band’s most irresistible tune.
Funniest moment of the show: Following Super 400’s set, emcee Joe Condon of B95.5 “continuous soft rock” radio station asked the band where they were playing next. When Condon informed the crowd, “They’ll be in Durham,” Friday corrected him. “Oh, Europe,” Condon said sheepishly. “I thought you said Durham.” Super 400 will spend the month of September playing Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France.
Brooklyn-based barn-burners O’Death opened the show with a set of raw, ragged tunes that fused together bluegrass, punk, cabaret, Gypsy jazz and more although not entirely successfully. Singer-guitarist Greg Jamie seemed to be trying too hard to recreate some sort of keening backwoods Appalachian yowl, but it was more annoying than endearing. Still, you don’t often get to see something like Gabe Darling firing up some fuzzed-out slide banjo work…
Local rockers the Chris Busone Band played earlier in the day for the lunchtime crowd.
The Smithereens photographs by Al Goldberg
The Chris Busone Band, O’Death and Super 400 photographs by Matt Mac Haffie
THE SMITHEREENS SET LIST
Only a Memory
Miles From Nowhere
Since You Went Away
The House We Used to Live In
“Tommy” medley (the Who)
Behind the Wall of Sleep
The Room Without a View
Top of the Pops
The Blues Before and After
Time and Time Again
Blood and Roses
A Girl Like You>Get Together (the Youngbloods)>Behind Blue Eyes (the Who)