Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Smithereens at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill

Pat DiNizio
The 1980s saw a revival of 1960s-styled pop music and the Smithereens were among the unembarrassed leaders of the new power pop movement. The four musicians, based in Scotch Plains and Carteret, New Jersey, connected in 1980 through a classified ad and named the new band from a Yosemite Sam cartoon catchphrase, "Varmint, I'm a-gonna blow you to smithereens!" The Smithereens first developed a strong local following, then gained national popularity when "Blood and Roses" became the theme song of the 1986 movie, Dangerously Close, and MTV gave rotation to the accompanying video. The Smithereens also were featured as the entertainment in the indoor beach party scene of the 1986 film Class of Nuke 'Em High, playing the song "Much Too Much." The band's sole Top 40 hit, "A Girl Like You," was originally written to be the title track for the 1989 film Say Anything.... Pat DiNizio (vocals, guitar), Jim Babjak (guitar, vocals), Mike Mesaros (bass, vocals), and Dennis Diken (drums) continued until 2006, when Severo "The Thrilla" Jornacion replaced Mesaros on bass. Aside from Christmas and covers albums, the Smithereens' seventh and most recent studio album, 2011, was released in 2011.

The Smithereens played to a close-to-hometown following tonight at B.B. King's Blues Club & Grill, and so the band played for fun rather than for professional or promotional motives. The Smithereens celebrated the 30th anniversary of the debut album, Especially for You. The two-hour set opened with the Smithereens playing the album in full, with an insertion of Diken singing "Let It Be Lowenbrau" towards the end. The performance of the album was accompanied by a slide show featuring vintage photographs and newspaper clippings of the band. The musicians barely moved on stage, so the music became a soundtrack as the audience was drawn magnetically to the video display. Beyond the album, the band played another 15 songs or so, including several cover interludes. The Smithereens covered the Who's "The Acid Queen," and then led "House We Used to Live in" into a guitar-jamming version of the Who's "Sparks." Perhaps too playfully, DiNizio then sang a verse and chorus of two Carpenters hits, "We've Only Just Begun" and "(They Long to Be) Close to You." The show closed with "A Girl Like You" segueing into Free's "All Right Now" and the Youngbloods' "Let's Get Together" before returning to "A Girl Like You." Accompanied throughout the show by Andy Burton on keyboards, the performance seemed to showcase a new Smithereens for the 21st century, more guitar-led than ever, and far more of a classic rock band than a pop band.

Visit the Smithereens at