I was really looking forward to covering The Smithereens show at The Larcom Theatre. They have a timeless sound, garage rock that I’ve been listening to since high school. This band has beaten the stereotype: not only have they remained friends over the years, with a stable band (now celebrating their 35th anniversary!), but their music has easily lasted over the decades.
As they came onto the stage, Pat DiNizio (lead singer) announced that their usual bassist, Severo "The Thrilla" Jornacion, was not with them because his wife was having a baby. Standing in with them that night was Kenny Howes. Kenny did not disappoint; he played with them like he had been with them for the past 35 years, grooving and jumping up and down the stage.
The theatre was packed for the show and this group gave the audience exactly what they wanted. They played an almost 3-hour set with no intermission! Who does that!?! They played all the favorite singles, including “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Top of the Pops,” Drown in My Own Tears,” “Only a Memory,” “Blood and Roses,” and “A Girl Like You.” But they also played some great covers including, “Please, Please Me” by the Beatles. At one point, when Pat exited the stage for a minute or two, and Kenny and Jim played an impromptu bit from “A Hard Day’s Night.” The band also did a full cover of The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” Pat’s deep voice smoothly delivered them all. The music flowed easily from rock song to ballads and back again. Many in the audience couldn’t stay seated and moved into the aisles to dance.
They not only kept the audience engaged with their music, but Pat also entertained with many stories. To an audience hanging on every word, he seemed to speak very off-the-cuff, as if he were talking casually with someone he had just met at a party. He pointed to a man in the audience who looked a lot like Father Christmas, and congratulated him on his impressive beard. Pat then seemed to recognize him and laughingly asked if he were the guy who had him arrested at a Gloucester pizza joint years ago. It was all good fun and after he told the story, he invited the man up to the stage to shake his hand. The audience applauded.
Each musician got to show off with a few solos and impress they did: Jim Babjak with some wild guitar-work and Dennis Diken with his racing drumbeats. These musicians work so well together. Nothing seemed to faze them; they slid from one song to another, always engaging the audience with a look here or a smile there.
Pat told another story that had everyone howling. He described a time in 1988, when, after many years of struggling, he now thought that he had finally made it. He felt like he was on top of the world. After years of sharing cheap motel rooms, they were now being treated as rockstars and were being put up at the Four Seasons. They were on a tour with Squeeze and Joools Holland (the band’s founder) was playing piano in the bar. Metallica was also staying there; they were also on the tour. They had taken over the bar and were buying everyone shots of 100-year-old scotch. It sounded like a scene out of a movie. Belinda Carlisle, whom he had lusted over for years, was chatting him up and even asking him to write a song for her. Then John Entwistle (bassist for The Who) walked thru the bar. A life-long Who fanatic, and now feeling he was in “The Rock Star Club,” Pat waved and shouted “JOOOOHN!” across the room. Entwistle waved back in his own way: a backward hand swipe from under the chin, bringing Pat quickly back down to Earth.
Towards the end of the show, Jim surprised everyone when he jumped down from the stage. He kept playing, never missing a beat as he walked up and down the aisles. This turned into a once-in-a-lifetime moment for one audience member when he chose her to come to the front of the stage to show her how to play his guitar. Everyone in the audience was wishing they were in her shoes.
After the show, the band held a meet and greet in the lobby of the theatre for almost an hour. They took the time to shake everyone’s hand and sign anything that people brought. The band didn’t rush anyone and got into long talks with many. The guys in this band act like real people: they don’t remove themselves from their audience and they’re just as friendly off-stage as they are on-stage. It’s easy to see to see how they’ve collected such a large and loyal following.
I can’t wait to see them play again. The Larcom, a 1912 theatre that’s been beautifully restored, coupled with its outstanding acoustics, is the perfect place for them. Maybe next time they’ll even play one of my faves, “White Castle Blues.” ;-)