Concert review: The Smithereens - Rams Head On Stage (Slideshow)

The Smithereens managed to bring all the excitement of the big venue, leaving much of the audience on their feet,  grinning and shaking their heads in amazement at feeling this good once again. Photo: Jacquie Kubin

WASHINGTON, January 14, 2011–In 1986, I stood open jawed after witnessing an opening act named The Smithereens plow through an original set of power, crunch pop in the midst of their break out tour helped by the song “Blood and Roses.”

Flashing forward and most of the band that heated an Evanston, Illinois night stopped by the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis Maryland ripping through a set of career highlight material.

Although the core lineup remains —singer-songwriter Pat DiNizio, lead guitarist Jim Babjak, and drummer Dennis Diken — original bass player Mike Mesaros is now gone.

A feisty Filipino named Severo Jornacion, aka “the Thrilla,” now handles the bottom end. For this appearance, keyboardist / accordionist Andy Burton provided a bit of rarity throughout the set.

After a slightly tardy start, The Smithereens began with zero small talk and attacked “Sorry,” “Top of the Pops,” “Yesterday’s Girl,” “Strangers When We Meet,” “Rings on Her Finger,” “Cut Flowers” and “Keep on Running” before offering thanks to the near capacity, albeit intimate, crowd.

Much of the material came from the band’s biggest albums from the 1980s including “Especially for You,” “11,” and “Green Thoughts” but selections from its current album “2011” also fit right in.

College radio moments with classics such as “Only a Memory,” “Behind the Wall,” “Room Without a View” were interspaced between lesser known tunes such as “Spellbound,” the accordion infused “Maria Elena” and keyboard heavy “Too Much Passion” (never really tried in the states according to Mr. DiNizio).

While on Mr. DiNizio, although he is a bit older and wider than that firebrand stage stormer of my youth (he might be confused with an owner of New Jersey hoagie shop these days rather than alternative rock star), his voice (think Elvis Costello with a Jersey accent) and focused enthusiasm never wavered through a set of over two dozen, well crafted songs.

Jimmie Babjak’s aggressive guitar sizzle and humor made him a well-rounded tour de force all evening.

Whether beating up his Rickenbacker to get the right jangly sound, delivering a variety of leads started as DiNizio screamed any number of vocal propellants such as “let’s go,” “do it,” “all right,” and “Jimmy” or even asking his lead singer if it was Polka time (after Mr. Burton broke out an accordion for the rarity “Cigarette”), it was a pleasure to watch the man in action.

And with the close confines seating of Rams Head live, that meant sitting, literally, not more than a stride or two from where he stood. 

And say what you will about Rock n’ Roll getting older, watching a virtuoso effortlessly play a guitar with such skill belies the hubris of many a younger musician.

It is the drumming of Dennis Diken that propels The Smithereens from ballads staple to rock demi-Gods. Diken maintained his signature Bun E. Carlos calm all evening but was never afraid to let his Keith Moon side pop out at just the right moment.

A final crescendo with the song that started it all “Blood and Roses” tied up around two hours of audio action Mr. Babjak leapt from the stage to stroll amongst the tables. Tethered to the stage (might be time to leave the 80’s behind and join the wireless generation, Jimmy!), Mr. Jornacion and his bright red bass, zoomed across the stage, similarly leaping into the audience while egging the guitarist on as he created frenzied delight in the audience with his extended solos - including the fury of Pete Townsend’s signature windmills

One might wonder how a small venue can create a concert like atmosphere, however you need look no further than The Smithereens. They managed to bring all the excitement of the big venue, leaving some of the audience grinning and shaking their heads in amazement at feeling this good once again.

An encore began with an energetic attack of “I’m Free” from the Who’s classic album “Tommy” and concluded with the band’s greatest hit “A Girl Like You.”

And, wedged between those ditties, and to complete my flashback evening, you guessed it; the Smithereens played “The Seeker.”

Who says you can’t go back?

Somebody hand me a towel.


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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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