Let’s address the elephant in the room right up front. The Smithereens’ lead singer, Pat DiNizio, passed away in 2017. How could the band continue without their voice? The simple answer, quite admirably. Remaining original members, guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros, and drummer Dennis Diken have vowed to carry on the Smithereens music but don’t plan to replace DiNizio with a permanent lead singer. Marshal Crenshaw sang with them in 2018 and 2019 has started with Gin Blossom vocalist, Robin Wilson carrying the torch. Many times during the show, the band remembered DiNizio fondly and Wilson so they were not moving on, they were all honoring him by continuing. The remaining members of the band play with the same intensity and power as before. More on that in a moment.
Opening the night at The Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield Connecticut was the singer / songwriter who hails from Paterson, New Jersey, Larry Stevens. Larry was accompanied by percussionist Vincent Presite. The duo had a very unique folksy sound with Vincent playing his percussion part using his hands slapping a wooden box. They certainly warmed up the audience with their set which quite honestly could have gone on longer per the crowd’s reaction. Larry seemed very at ease with the crowd and kept the banter with the crowd light and amusing, just as his music is. Larry is worthy of headlining shows, which he has, and Music Madness hopes to cover a full set in the future.
The Smithereens took the stage next and didn’t dance around a set list leading up to their hits; they hit hard right away with their classic “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”. Robin Wilson’s vocals were strong and they were his own. He didn’t try to imitate DiNizio. In fact, he honored him by NOT trying to imitate him because no one can pull off imitating a lead singer of a well-known band. Wilson put his own spin on all the vocals of the classic Smithereens hits. The afore mentioned remaining original members showed that the Smithereens were not merely a band featuring a lead singer rather, they were a band with four equally powerful pieces. Babjak, Mesaros, and Diken were not merely going through the motions as some bands who have been around as long (or longer) as they have. They played as if they were a young and hungry garage band just as they were when they started out in 1980. One could tell that everyone on stage was not just performing, they were having fun doing what they were doing. This added to the excitement of the evening.
Ridgefield Playhouse is a great venue and as the name suggests, it’s a seated venue. Early on, Wilson called for the audience to come up to the stage and a few complied. A handful remained while many wished they had listened and joined the folks getting a close up view. Later in the set, Wilson once again called for folks to come up front and the stage area was instantly packed as the energy of the show had instilled a desire to get as much out of the show as possible. If you can’t be on stage, at least be as close as possible, and dance!
The setlist was loaded with all of the classic Smithereens songs from the opening “Behind The Wall of Sleep” to the show closing hit “A Girl Like You”. There were a few covers but there were no Gin Blossom covers. In fact, the Smithereens said they do not want to do any covers of the songs the lead singers did with their bands but they would give them input into the set list. This night they covered Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons” and Badfinger’s “No Matter What” but the show stealer was their cover of a song from The Who’s classic album Tommy, “Sparks”. Not to dismiss any of their original songs but Sparks is an instrumental and it really showed the power of the instruments behind The Smithereens. One could easily tell from Mesaros’ thumping bass, Dikens’ maniacal drumming and Babjak’s Pete Townshend-like wind milling on his guitar that they were a force to be reckoned with.
In closing, don’t be skeptical of what you will be seeing when you go see The Smithereens. You will be seeing a first class and first-rate rock and roll band who love what they do and it shows. If one of the band members tells you to come up to the front of the stage, do so. You won’t be sorry!
Set List from Ridgefield Playhouse 1/11/2019
- Behind the Wall of Sleep
- Green Thoughts
- Miles From Nowhere
- Blues Before and After
- Strangers When We Meet
- Groovy Tuesday
- Cut Flowers
- Yesterday Girl
- Now and Then
- Time and Time Again
- Top of the Pops
- Only a Memory
- Drown in My Own Tears
- House That We Used To Live In
- Blood and Roses
Photos and Review by Rich Russo