Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Suddenly....the Smithereens!

Summer is festival season in Washington. People come for miles around to eat, drink, and celebrate the season at the Smithsonian mall, Wolf Trap, all the sheds, and of course, in scenic Old Town Alexandria. That's where the Red Cross recently celebrated the 25th Waterfront Festival, an annual gala which featured rides, food, and live music. Saturday, June 14th featured local faves Virginia Coalition, The Smithereens, and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

And like last year's Memorial Day visit, the 'Reens seem to have developed a nearly Radiohead-like capacity for bringing the rain along with them when playing at outdoor venues (I understand that the same thing also occurred at a show this spring in Virginia Beach, as well). But the crowd was well- prepared this time, sporting slickers and umbrellas, and the band played a solid 90+ minute set before several hundred soggy fans who braved the weather to hear them perform the many hits featured on their recently released CD, "The Smithereens Live in Concert- Greatest Hits and More!" And even under less than ideal conditions, I think everyone was satisfied with the end result.

Pat, Jim, Thrilla, and Dennis took the stage pretty much as scheduled, but blowing wind and rain delayed their start for a few minutes while they worked out sound with the folks manning the board. The band immediately launched into one of their signature tunes, Behind the Wall of Sleep, from their 1986 debut "Especially For You." Largely following the track list from the new album, the band delivered solid performances of Drown In My Own Tears, Miles From Nowhere, Room Without A View, Only a Memory, and House We Used to Live In, getting the crowd into it and inviting them to sing along with the band. Spellbound, from the second album "Green Thoughts," was featured next, a long overlooked but great song that has recently crept back into the band's live sets. Another new addition and personal favorite that has been revived in recent live dates is She's got A Way, a gorgeous ballad Pat wrote for his daughter, from their 1999 set, "God Save the Smithereens."

The band also mixed in a couple of tracks from Pat's recent solo release (which featured both Jim Babjak and Thrilla), and his resonant tenor voice crooned with characteristic aplomb on Since You Went Away, and Any Other Way. Throughout the show, Pat and Thrilla joked with the audience, remarking about the unforgiving weather, reminding the audience to give generously to the Red Cross, and talking up their new label "Koch Records. Doesn't have the same kind of panache as Capitol or RCA Victor, does it?"

Still, the weather and occasional technical difficulties notwithstanding, the boys played another typically inspired show. After Pat broke a string about halfway through the set, the band relied on Jim Babjak's guitar to carry them the rest of the night, and as always, his Strat rang true and delivered with flying colors. In fact, he laid down some of the best leads I've ever heard him play live, prompting me to think that he should be turned up a little more in the mix generally. Thrilla and drummer Dennis Diken were solid as always, and though Pat seemed a little disappointed at not being able to jam along, he channeled his focus into vocals and sounded none the worse for the experience.

By the time the band finished Blood and Roses, the rain finally relented, and the crowd was then entertained by Toad the Wet Sprocket. They performed some of their better known tunes, including All I Want, Come Back Down, and Walk on the Ocean, which is largely what the area in front of the stage resembled by then. Good but languid, while I've always enjoyed the band, it was definitely sleepy and low key after the Smithereens' buoyant performance. However, by that time, I had more than enough, and I was drier than most! Once the Smithereens finished signing autographs and renewing acquaintances with some diehard fans, I tagged along to Bilbo Baggins' Pub in Old Town with Thrilla for a few cold microbeers (I strongly recommend their fine pale ale) and some good conversation with some of his friends.

The good news is that the band will be BACK in VA on August 22nd, playing a FREE, ALL AGES SHOW at the 46th Annual Surfing Championship in Virginia Beach! Be there or be square...and just in case, bring an umbrella!

The Smithereens: Dennis, Jim, Pat and Thrilla- Please consult with the local meteorologist before the next show!

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