Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Smithereens

Earlier this week I was reading the Village Voice when I noticed The Smithereens would be playing BB King's on Friday night. I was kind of surprised to see them listed because I had no idea they were still playing together.

The Smithereens were one of the "cool" alternative bands I got into during my college years. As far as I could tell, they never moved too far out of the college-alternative genre and into the mainstream. No one I know except people from my early 20s has ever heard of them. So, I decided to go to this concert, not so much because I was that excited to see them, but more because I was dying to see what kind of crowd would show up for this. I figured it would probably be a lot of late 30s - early 40s crowd, and a lot of guys screaming "fuck yeah, the Smithereens, you guys are AWESOME!!!"

I did go last night, and I was not disappointed on any level. At first when my friend Oddrun & I entered the room, we discovered it was cabaret-style seating, where you sit at a table and order food & drink ($10 min. per person) while you listen to the concert. This seemed to be a strange way to hear rock music. I think the last time I saw the Smithereens was in 1988 at First Avenue in Minneapolis - you know, the kind of real joint where you stand around drinking beer in front of a stage.

But if you think about it, cabaret style seating for rock concerts is actually entirely appropriate for this kind of crowd. We're busy busting our butts all week selling insurance, working in law firms, slaving away as CPAs and whatnot. You need a place to rest your weary ass while you enjoy some good tunage from your youth. I kind of got into the scene.

We were seated at a table with these guys in their mid forties with graying hair, paunch bellies and accompanied by similarly aged female companions with cheap dye jobs and leather pants. The rest of the room was fairly similar. A lot of people looked like they were eager to have a few hours of fun but-not-for-too-long-because-I have-to-get-home-to-pay-the-sitter kind of thing. A lot of bleary-eyed tired from the work-week faces. Totally understandable, if you ask me.

The opening band sucked ass. Oddrun was just looking at me as if to say "what the hell are we doing here? This sucks ass." I shrugged and reminded her that we were there as part of a sociological study.

The sucky band ended after far too long, and then after about 20 minutes the Smithereens walked out on stage, rather casually, and picked up their instruments. No big hoopla or fanfare of any sort. The first thing I noticed is that their lead singer, Pat Dinizio, has BALLOOOOOOONED. I'm talking an Orson Wellian kind of roundness. The rest of the band looked pretty much the same, but about 20 years older. The bassist still does this really gay two-feet jumping in the air kind of thing when he plays, which I always thought was amusing. Lead guitarist Jimmy Babjak is still kind of a Baldwin - just want to give him a hug whenever you see him.

Then they started playing. Opened with "Spellbound" which is kind of a slow ballad. It sounded great, which kind of surprised me because I thought that if these guys haven't been playing together regularly for 20 odd years, they must be rusty. Not so. They sound like they've never quit playing. I was also pleasantly surprised to notice that this band that I thought was so "cool" in my youth actually consists of four very excellent musicians. I've had that experience where I listen, as an adult, to some group I liked when I was young - and notice, as an adult, that they really kind of suck. I saw the Go-Go's a few times when they reunited and was sad to note that they are terrible performers. While I will be forever devoted to Belinda Carlisle (seeing as how we're psychically linked, which I'll blog about later) the woman can't sing for shit. Off key, terrible.

Not so with Pat Dinizio. His intonation was right on the money throughout every single song. He was always the one member of the band who kind of annoyed me for some reason. It always seemed to me that he thought he was just too cool in a beatnick sort of way. But after his performance last night, I have newfound respect & admiration for the guy. He really loves his music, and it shows. Jimmy's guitar playing was also amazing. In short, these guys WERE awesome.

I remembered the lyrics to every single song they played, which kind of amazed me because I haven't listened to these guys in years. After about 30 minutes I decided to screw the cabaret style seating arrangement and I stood up and started yelling "BLOOD AND ROSES!!! BLOOD AND ROSES!!!" My table companions got very excited and started whooping & hollering right along with me (apparently it was their favorite song too.) By the end of the concert, I had become the very object of my sociological study - the almost-fortysomething with graying hair and paunch belly screaming "Fuck yeah, the Smithereens, you guys are AWESOME!!!!!!!" Oddrun laughed and danced next to her chair.

It was a really great night. While it would be nice if there were some twentysomethings around today who had a chance to know and appreciate the Smithereens, it was kind of fun to rock to them with this fortysomething crowd. I felt a mild sense of connection and bonding as I stood surrounded by all these guys who probably would've tried to beat me up if they'd known me in high school.

And the best part- I was home in bed with my cat by 11:45! Rock on man!!!

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