For a good time, for a good time call…’Rock of the ’80s’ in Morristown

 

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU: Brad Elvis and Rich Cole of the Romantics, playing in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

WHAT I LIKE ABOUT YOU: Brad Elvis and Rich Cole of the Romantics, playing in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Chances are, a lot of folks left the Mayo Performing Arts Center on Thursday with a bad case of Loopitis.

You know the symptoms: A song infects your brain and repeats endlessly; the only cure is infection by another song.

When a show starts with 867-5309/Jenny and ends with What I Like About You, resistance is futile.

Tommy Tutone delivered the former hit in the opening set of Rock of the ’80s, and the Romantics, featuring three of four original members, closed the evening with the latter.

Tommy Tutone. Please click icon below for captions.

In between, Marshall Crenshaw and the Smithereens unleashed a barrage of hook-laden pop gems, serving a potent reminder that the Reagan-era airwaves were not all drum machines and synthesizers.

In fact, there was not a keyboard in sight on a night that belonged to Rickenbackers, Telecasters and some muscular analog drummers.

This was the tour’s first night, and it will be interesting to see Rock of the ’80s when these guys are hitting on all cylinders.

Crenshaw, one of my favorite pop craftsmen, had trouble with an amplifier and never really caught fire on Thursday.  It looked like his sidemen were feeling their way through his 20-minute set, which included Mary Anne, Rockin’ Around in NYC, There She Goes Again, Someday Someway, Buddy Holly’s Crying Waiting Hoping, and Material Girl.

Marshall Crenshaw. Please click icon below for captions.

The Smithereens roared into the breach. They are one of those rare bands who produce great-sounding recordings… and sound even greater live.

Lead singer Pat DiNizio, guitarist Jim Babjak, bassman Severo Jornacion and drummer Dennis Diken threw everything they had into their 43-minute performance, which had virtually everyone dancing to their power-pop beat.

ROCK ON: Jim Babjak of the Smithereens strolled through the audience for an extended solo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

ROCK ON: Jim Babjak of the Smithereens strolled through the audience for an extended solo in Morristown. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Over the years, the Smithereens have disappointed only once–when DiNizio played a solo acoustic gig at the Sanctuary.  It was the wrong setting for him; unadorned, his naturally morose lyrics practically made you suicidal.

But team him with Babjak (the guitarist I long to be!), the enormously entertaining Jornacion (“The Thrilla from Manila”) and the rock-solid Diken and you have a formidable juggernaut that makes “morose” wildly exciting.

The Smithereens are almost as much fun to watch as they are to listen to–unless you’re a photographer struggling to freeze-frame these perpetual-motion machines.

They ripped through Only a Memory, House We Used to Live In, Sparks from the Who’s Tommy, Time and Time Again, Blood and Roses and Girl Like You, among other crowd-pleasers.

Babjak sojourned through the audience for an extended solo, and the group was besieged by autograph-seekers during an intermission.

The Smithereens definitely enjoyed the home-field advantage–or the home-state advantage, anyway. They probably should be the closers for the tour’s Garden State shows.

The Smithereens. Please click icon below for captions.

Still, the Romantics more than held their own, led by original members Wally Palmer, Mike Skill and Rich Cole and propelled by the animated Brad Elvis on drums.  One highlight was a raw, gritty version of Talking In Your Sleep that was a welcome contrast to the slick radio version that scored a Top-10 hit for the Detroit band in 1983.

In fact, that was the Romantics’ only visit to the Top 10. What I Like About You barely cracked the Top 50.

But that’s the one stuck on autoplay in my inner jukebox.

Maybe Jenny can help me… what’s her number again?

The Romantics. Please click icon below for captions.



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