Live: The Smithereens @ the Empire State Plaza Food Festival, 8/18/10

The Smithereens
The Smithereens

For the past several years, the Smithereens have been little more than a decent cover band/bar band, as they inexplicably churned out their own track-by track renditions of the Who’s “Tommy” and the Beatles’ “Meet the Beatles.”

And that’s a shame because back in the ’80s, the Jersey foursome whipped up some mighty fine pop music – dark, bruised, haunting songs that were chockful of big fat hooks on loan from the vast repertoire of ’60s British Invasion bands.

At the Empire State Plaza Food Festival on Wednesday night, singer Pat Dinizio and his bandmates showed glimmers of that old glory – just not enough to earn them their headline status.

Dinizio’s between song patter was embarrassingly cloying, but his voice is still in good shape. And guitarist Jim Babjak and woefully under-rated drummer Dennis Diken managed to instill some serious rock ‘n’ roll passion in fave old nuggets like the opening “Only a Memory,” the chugging “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and especially the ominous “Blood and Roses,” with its relentless, powerhouse bassline provided by the quartet’s only non-original member, Severo “The Thrilla from Manilla” Jornacion.

Surprisingly though, none of those tunes (or any of the other ones that they played during their 85-minute set) seemed to generate much of a reaction from the small crowd until the show-closing “A Girl Like You” veered off into the Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes,” at which point the entire crowd came alive and sang along. Sad, sad, sad…

Truthfully, Super 400 should have been headlining the show. The super-charged Troy power trio came on like gangbusters with Joe Daley slamming out the backbeat. Kenny Hohman’s soulful Steve Winwood-meets-Jack Bruce vocals were every bit as potent as his razor-edged guitar work, especially on “Blast the Message” and an inspired cover of Blind Faith’s “In the Presence of the Lord.”

And although bassist Lori Friday only stepped up to handle two lead vocals, one of them – the hook-filled “Flashlight” – is the band’s most irresistible tune.

Funniest moment of the show: Following Super 400’s set, emcee Joe Condon of B95.5 “continuous soft rock” radio station asked the band where they were playing next. When Condon informed the crowd, “They’ll be in Durham,” Friday corrected him. “Oh, Europe,” Condon said sheepishly. “I thought you said Durham.” Super 400 will spend the month of September playing Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France.

Brooklyn-based barn-burners O’Death opened the show with a set of raw, ragged tunes that fused together bluegrass, punk, cabaret, Gypsy jazz and more although not entirely successfully. Singer-guitarist Greg Jamie seemed to be trying too hard to recreate some sort of keening backwoods Appalachian yowl, but it was more annoying than endearing. Still, you don’t often get to see something like Gabe Darling firing up some fuzzed-out slide banjo work…

Local rockers the Chris Busone Band played earlier in the day for the lunchtime crowd.

The Smithereens photographs by Al Goldberg
The Chris Busone Band, O’Death and Super 400 photographs by Matt Mac Haffie

Only a Memory
Miles From Nowhere
Since You Went Away
The House We Used to Live In
“Tommy” medley (the Who)
Behind the Wall of Sleep
The Room Without a View
Top of the Pops
Blue Period
Cut Flowers
Yesterday Girl
The Blues Before and After
Time and Time Again
Blood and Roses
A Girl Like You>Get Together (the Youngbloods)>Behind Blue Eyes (the Who)

The Smithereens
The Smithereens

The Smithereens' Dennis Diken
The Smithereens' Dennis Diken

Jim Babjak and Pat Dinizio
Jim Babjak and Pat Dinizio of the Smithereens

Joe Daley and Kenny Hohman of Super 400
Joe Daley and Kenny Hohman of Super 400

Lori Friday of Super 400
Lori Friday of Super 400


Chris Busone
Chris Busone

  1. Scott C. says

    I certainly disagree strongly with your snarky skewering of The Smithereens set at the Food Fest, Greg. Especially phrases like “little more than a decent bar band” (I guess you know what you’re talking about there), or that they didn’t perform well enough “to earn their headline status”. They earned that status with a songbook full of beautifully crafted pop gems and hits that most bands only dream about. I don’t know why acts like Rod Stewart and Cheap Trick earn their bones doing all-covers albums now, but if it’s good enough for them, why fault The Smithereens? Describing those albums as “inexplicably churned out” shows you’re not listening like you might. You’re listening like a critic, not a fan.

    You’re right about the smallish dead crowd, but how can you blame the band for that? I guess the organizers should have ramped up the beer sales and hired Eddie Money (again). Summing up the atmosphere as “sad, sad, sad” makes me think we were at two different shows. I don’t agree with your put down of O’Death either. I thought they were very exciting, a real discovery for me anyway. Super 400 should have headlined, huh? Well, that shows you haven’t lost your sense of

    If you want to talk about a band bombing in front of a tiny crowd, you should have reviewed the show a couple years ago when Blotto opened for The Flashcubes at Turning Stone Casino. I was one of the very few paying fans in attendance, and I saw Blotto get their ass kicked by the Cubes, a band who on their best day could actually give The Smithereens a run for their money.

  2. Alan G. says

    There could’ve and should’ve been a bigger showing of attendance. I will say that much!

  3. Greg says

    Scott C: Nope, I haven’t lost my sense of humor. And I couldn’t agree more with you that the Flashcubes could give the Smithereens a run for their money. I’m a big fan of both bands. Glad you enjoyed the show.

  4. Scott C. says

    (Damn it! He’s got more class than I do!) Erm, well played Mr. Haymes.

  5. LiLi says

    Well, now, that was the best darn laugh I had all day, Greg & Scott C. I heard a lot of arguments today, but none that ended like that…

  6. CC says

    @Scott C:
    I really hate the freaking drama that’s rampant at most sites like this. Kudos to you for backing off a bit.

  7. Scott C. says

    This thing ain’t over till I say it’s over!!

    okay, it’s over. Ask ace photographer Matt Mac Haffie about the Flashcubes if you don’t believe me (or Greg)!

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