The Smithereens

By Jean Metcalfe

During the Smithereens' November 17 show at, of all places, the University of Louisville's student activity center, I witnessed an unexpected transformation.

Let me explain.

Via an MTV concert in 1986 The Smithereens became an instant favorite of mine and, looking back on that memorable show, I distinctly remember frontman Pat Dinizio's tortured-artist stage presence that paralleled his melancholy tales of relationships in various stages of decay. Almost six years later Dinizio's power pop gloomy songs continue while his behavior can be summed up by saying he came, he saw, he skipped. The playful Dinizio managed to remain the focal point throughout, by bumming cigarettes and baseball caps and by making funny and somewhat horrifying faces at the photographers.

The crowd seemed humored by it all, but the big question was whether the Smithereens could muster up enough interesting music to satisfy. Well, like much of their formulated radio-ready albums, the live music seemed to get stuck in that same kind of redundancy that has plagued their recent albums.

Guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken round out this veteran New Jersey bar band that opened the show with "Behind the Wall of Sleep," a song that I'm familiar with, and it showed as my voice repeatedly cracked and crumbled during my favorite line of the song, "Well she held a bass guitar / And she was playing in a band / And she stood just like Bill Wyman / Now I am her biggest fan." Fortunately the music was loud enough to drown me out, otherwise a crowd refund would've been in order.

The Smithereens played songs from each of their four albums. Standouts included "Cigarette," a touching acoustic song that was a nice change of pace from the standard rockers. "Blues Before and After," "Only a Memory" and, of course, the song that broke the band nationwide, "Blood and Roses," followed. Occasionally Babjak's guitar solos were so low that Dinizio's rhythm guitar easily erased the solo completely. And when the solos did get through they sounded very much alike.

After performing a whimsical version of the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine," a song that encourages crowd participation, Dinizio said, "Isn't that the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard." Indeed, Pat.

As for the opening band, Richard X. Heyman, well, he was a no-show, so instead we were treated to a local group that goes by the name of The Velcro Pygmies. Lucky us, huh?

Their sophomoric, twenty-minute set was a complete waste of time to everyone. I will seize this opportunity to speak for everyone, except a few girls who seemed to be having a good time. They must have been with the Pygmies.

Also performing was The View, a band from Chicago whose leader is none other than Jack McDowell. Who?, you might reply (but if you follow baseball then you know who I'm talking about). McDowell pitches for the Chicago White Sox and he also pitches songs with a mysterious jangly guitar sound.

Wonder where I've heard that before?