Cold Reception Doesn't Freeze Smithereens

By Kevin Gibson

For a band that's used to playing to packed houses and enthusiastic audiences, the reception the Smithereens got May 8 at the Toy Tiger must have seemed like the Twilight Zone. Or a freezer.

Not more than 100 people paid the twelve bucks ($14 at the door) to see the New York quartet, and only a handful found the energy to get out of their seats until the show was two-thirds over.

This gave the 'Reens a chance to prove at least one thing: They can have fun by themselves if the need arises.

The Smithereens took the stage at just after 11 p.m. and hardly took the time to draw a breath until they'd nearly razed the place with their buzzing guitars and booming backbeats. For those of us paying attention, it was a real treat.

Leading off with "Only a Memory" from their second album, they mixed old favorites with brief tributes to their most recent release, A Date With the Smithereens, which sold only about 60,000 copies in the United States.

From that disc (which received favorable reviews but was criminally ignored on local radio), they offered "War for My Mind" and "Long Way Back Again." Even guitarist Jim Babjak's haunting "Love is Gone" drew a ho-hum response from the small crowd.

Nevertheless, the Smithereens trudged on, offering a hard-driving rendition of "Behind the Wall of Sleep" from their acclaimed debut and following with a sparkling acoustic set. After "In a Lonely Place" and "Cigarette" from the aforementioned debut record, lead singer Pat Dinizio served up a stirring treatment of the Green Thoughts track, "Especially for You."

Things kicked back into high gear with "Blues Before and After," a grinding cut from the band's third album, and by the time they got to "Top of the Pops," the audience finally realized the show had started and decided to join in.

Luckily for the late arrivals, some of the show's best moments would be found in the live version of "Miles From Nowhere" (from Date), and in the scheduled closer, "Blood and Roses," the group's first hit which features the pulsating bass maneuvers of the always-intense Mike Mesaros.

The band encored with the oft-covered "Money," and turned in one of the better renditions of the longtime favorite you're likely to hear. "A Girl Like You," the main hit from album No. 3 and a fan favorite, wound things up as Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken pounded out the tune with ferocity.

The Toy Tiger isn't a bad place for a concert, bud odds are the Smithereens would've drawn more numbers at their usual haunt, Phoenix Hill Tavern, or the currently-hip stop for alternative rock bands, the Brewery's Thunderdome. One wonders what a little more publicity and a different venue would have done for the show.

Unfortunately, it may be a while before we find out. While the band currently has Blown to Smithereens in release, a time-frame for another set of originals is uncertain. Dinizio did disclose that the sound for the next album might be a bit more basic than Date or 1992's Blow Up.

"The stuff I'm writing now sounds like Buddy Holly," he said. "[The next album] will probably be more like 'Especially for You,' although we approached Date the same way -- it just represents where we are now. I put my heart and soul into that album."

Until a new collection is assembled, Smithereens fans will have Blown to Smithereens and the upcoming Attack of the Smithereens, a collection of B-sides and rarities due out this summer, to tide them over.

Considering the turnout at the Toy Tiger there may not be many sold in Louisville, but if you've read this far then you have a right to know.

Taking the stage before the Smithereens was Columbus, Ohio's, own Watershed. This band, which is currently working on some songs with Babjak while they tour together, may be the next great power-pop trio. In just 40 minutes of stage time, they showed an energy and range that is lacking in much of today's fashionable alternative rock.

If they're wanting to promote their new Epic release, Twister, and its debut single, "How Do You Feel," they got off to a good start with this set.

If you haven't heard the CD yet, get to your local music store and buy it. It doesn't get much better than this in the Midwest.

Almost Noah started things off at 9 o'clock and also showed why they're one of the area's more talked-about rock lineups with a solid set of originals. If they seemed unenthusiastic, don't blame the band. Most people didn't even get there until 9:30 or 10. Their loss.