The Smithereens Explode on The Landmark Stage

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Powerful, exciting performance by experienced showmen

Smithereens live at Landmark

This weekend’s performance by The Smithereens – a staple band in the 1980s – was possibly the most exciting show thus far on the stage… and that’s saying a lot. Landmark Executive Director Sharon Maier-Kennelly is to be commended for the variety of shows that have taken place in Port Washington this year – including shows like this, which appeal to a slightly different demographic.

For those who somehow missed the 1980s, The Smithereens got their start in 1980 when singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio hooked up with high school friends (drums), Jim Babjak (guitar), and Mike Mesaros (bass) to form the original Smithereens. [About a decade ago, Mesaros left the band and was replaced by current bassist, “The Thrilla From Manilla,” Severo Jornacion.] Back in the 1980s, the band’s unique sound and superior songwriting skills earned them numerous hits including “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” and “Only a Memory.” For the next 30 years, the band remained together, touring extensively, and releasing both albums of originals and homages to their own influences including The Beatles and The Who.

Last week, The Smithereens of originals in over a decade – Smithereens 2011. The Landmark on Main Street show was only their second performance since the release of the CD.

The band exploded onto the stage and burst into “Behind the Wall of Sleep.” The appearance of the band may have changed – 30 years will do that – but the members sounded exactly as they did in the 1980s, maybe even better. When I closed my eyes, I could have been back in college. Pat DiNizio’s very distinctive voice was in fine form, as was the superb musicianship of his bandmates. Were they loud? Yes. Was it a good loud? You bet!

The Smithereens did a nice balance of new and old songs, covering their standards such as “Drown in My Own Tears,” Only a Memory,” “The House We Used to Live In,” “Green Period,” “The Blues Before and After,” and, of course, “Blood and Roses.” But they also mixed in some excellent songs from the new CD, including “Sorry,” and “One Look at You.” An unexpected highlight of the show was a medley from their cover album of The Who’s “Tommy,” including “Acid Queen” and “I’m Free.” The “Tommy” medley was the perfect showcase for drummer Dennis Diken’s proficient pounding and Jim Babjak’s wonderful guitar work.

Perhaps though, the best part of the show was in the middle when the band slowed down to perform some ballads, most notably “Lonely Place,” a gem of a song that it originally recorded with Suzanne Vega (another Landmark alumni) on backup vocals. Even without Vega’s angelic backing vocals, the song was gorgeous and Babjak’s guitar work was truly beautiful. After the ballads, the band ramped up again and the energy level peaked as Babjak and bassist Jornacion jumped off the stage and ran into the audience playing, at times, with their instruments behind their heads. The entire audience was on its feet, dancing in the aisles and in front of the stage.

The Smithereens closed the show with The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” – a surprise, since it wasn’t part of their Who album – and then an insanely rocking mash-up of “Wipe Out” by the Surfaris and the theme from the old TV show “Batman.”

This band knows how to put on a show. Thirty years of almost non-stop touring clearly taught them a lot, including how to build up to a climactic finish. All in all, it was a truly impressive concert from a band that I hope can continue to tour for the next 40 years.

This concert was part of Landmark’s Roots Rock series. The final show in the series is Alejandro Escovedo on Friday, April 29th.

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