Never underestimate the power of two guitars, a bass and drums. In the right hands, this template is still hard to beat.
The Smithereens proved it at the Black Potatoe Music Festival on Saturday in Clinton.
Pat DiNizio (lead vocals, guitar), Jim Babjak (lead guitar) and Dennis Diken(drums)–all from central Jersey– have been performing together since the ’80s, when tightly crafted pop tunes such as Blood and Roses, Behind the Wall of Sleep, Time and Time Again and Only a Memory propelled them onto MTV, Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show.
More recently, Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion has shown himself to be a worthy successor to bass player Mike Mesaros, injecting his own brand of controlled madness into the mix.
A music oracle from my high school days, Gary Wilson, turned me onto the Smithereens way back when. We saw them perform at William Paterson College. (Today it’s a university.)
The Smithereens were good then. They’re more fun now. Their 90-minute Black Potatoe set picked up steam as they shook off a 20-hour drive from the Carolinas; by the end of the show, Jim and the Thrilla were trading riffs amongst fans dancing at the base of the stage.
That’s one of the curious things about the Smithereens. Songs laden with brooding, melancholy lyrics– Pat’s specialty–make everyone want to jump up and dance. The same joy broke out at the band’s 2009 gig in Morristown’s Mayo Performing Arts Center.
Saturday’s set list included a track or two from their new album, Smithereens 2011; covers of The Who’s Sparks and Behind Blue Eyes; and rocked-up versions of the ’60s Batman TV theme and the surf tune Wipeout, just for laughs.
In their heyday, the Smithereens were labeled a “power pop” band. Maybe next year the Black Potatoe folks can do a power pop evening. How about the Smithereens, Marshall Crenshaw (who did a solo set at the Festival on Friday), the Bangles and the Knack? One template, four great flavors.