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Landmark Blown to Smithereens by… The Smithereens

Pat DiNizio (Photo by Steven Sandick)
Pat DiNizio (Photo by Steven Sandick)
There was not an empty seat in the house last Saturday night as The Smithereens returned to Landmark on Main Street for the first time since 2011. The band’s original fans, in their teens and 20’s during The Smithereens’ heyday in the 1980’s, are now grown with children of their own. Several of those children were part of the sold out audience – showing their parents’ dedication to the band.

There are few bands that put on as high-energy (or loud) a show as The Smithereens. This is the sort of show where you know you got your money’s worth. The four-member band is fronted by Pat DiNizio on vocals and guitar, Jim Babjak on lead guitar, Dennis Diken on drums, and Severo Jornacion (“the Thrilla’ from Manilla” as his bandmates fondly refer to him) on bass – all excellent musicians who have been playing together for years.  

This show was particularly special as it was part of their “Meet the Smithereens” tour, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ arrival in the US. “I was PROFOUNDLY influenced by the Beatles,” said DiNizio.  This influence is quite obvious in some songs, especially “Yesterday Girl.”

Over the course of the evening, the band interspersed Beatles’ covers with their own songs, and a few surprises thrown in.  Some of their excellently executed Beatles covers included “Hard Days Night,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I’m a Loser,” “Please Please Me,” “Ticket to Ride,” and “Rain.” DiNizio threw in interesting factoids before each song, such as the fact (unknown to me) that the Beatles’ “I Want to be Your Man” was actually written for The Rolling Stones. But the crowd really seemed to go wild when The Smithereens played their own songs (including a request that someone called out early on). Highlights of their own songs included the requested “House We Used to Live In,” “Drown in my own Tears,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and “Blue Period” (with a fabulous bass solo from Jornacion).

These guys are professionals, and they know how to work the crowd (not that this crowd needed much working). Things built to a frenzy towards the middle of the show, when they slowed things down with some slower numbers – a beautiful rendition of the Beatles’ “It’s Only Love,” and the lovely “Especially for You” were the standouts. Dennis Diken is a masterful drummer, as evidenced by his solo on “A Room Without A View.” But also worth noting are his vocal abilities. Diken is a fine singer, and took the lead on a couple of songs, as well as handling the high harmonies on the Beatles numbers.

One small word of advice for The Smithereens, however… “You may want to ratchet the volume down to 11, guys.”  It was loud. I couldn’t help but hope that those folks who brought children also brought some ear protection for them. When the band first began playing, Babjak’s lead guitar was a little low (although the overall sound volume was quite high), and an audience member yelled “turn up the guitar.” Unfortunately, this seemed to have been misinterpreted as a request to turn up the whole volume. Landmark has a wonderful sound system, but on this one occasion, I felt that the mix was a little off.

Regardless, it was a wonderful show. Even better, in my opinion, than The Smithereens’ versions of the Beatles were The Smithereens’ versions of The Who. Their rendition of “Sparks” from The Who’s “Tommy” was frankly better than The Who!

The closing of the show was superb. They ended with “Blood and Roses,” complete with a spectacular guitar solo by Babjak who jumped into the crowd, did the Pete Townsend trademark arm swing, and then let a little girl in the front row get in on the action by strumming his guitar. Their encore was a breathtaking medley, starting with “A Girl Like You,” morphing into Free’s “All Right Now,” Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” before ending up where it had started with “A Girl Like You.” The crowd was left breathless (and half deaf) but joyfully energized.

The next show at Landmark will be James Maddock & Willie Nile on Friday, March 21. For info, visit www.landmarkonmainstreet.org.

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