LIVE REVIEW: The Smithereens in Natick, MA (04.22.23)
Everyone waited all night to hear “A Girl Like You” but “Blood and Roses” was my highlight from The Smithereens performance. As the band played it for a sold-out crowd at TCAN in Natick, Mass. on Saturday night, I reminisced about making posters for SADD (Students Against Drunk Driving) in high school and putting the line “I close my eyes and I see blood and roses” on posters we made before prom. I’m dark like that. Side note: “Blood and Roses” was featured on an episode of Miami Vice, a show I never watched. This is the second band I’ve seen recently (the other is The Church) that had a song featured on that show. Since singer and founder Pat DiNizio’s death in 2017, the three remaining band members– guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken– have continued touring with various singers. This tour featured Marshall (“Someday, Someway”) Crenshaw on lead vocals.
The Smithereens formed in 1980 after Diken answered an ad DiNizio posted looking for a drummer. Diken recruited high school classmates Babjak and Mesaros. Forty years later, the longtime friends and bandmates clearly enjoy touring and playing together. Babjak said that Diken is his best friend. Babjak is particularly affable and must be very popular at get-togethers. Diken is also easy-going and comfortable behind the drum kit. Mesaros is the more intense one and he had a few moments of unsteadiness where he needed to lean on a roadie. He left the stage at one point, surprising the band, but came back several minutes later. When you’ve been together for more than 40 years, you have lots of stories to tell.
It was a fun, casual, completely entertaining two-hour show with lots of their classic hits and favorites as well as the band’s own favorites and some newer songs too. They played 24 songs in total. The Smithereens blend solid 60s-inspired rock with doo wop and blues. The show kicked off with a rousing “Behind the Wall of Sleep” and ended with “A Girl Like You” and several Burt Bacharach covers–The Shirelles’ “Baby It’s You,” Love’s version of “My Little Red Book”– as well as the Yardbirds’ “Heart Full of Soul” in memory of Jeff Beck. Crenshaw said that “Strangers When We Meet” which he sang with softer, subdued vocals was one of his favorite Smithereens songs. Stand-outs included the moody “Only a Memory,” a grooving “Yesterday Girl,” the melancholy “Don’t Look Down” and the pretty, wistful “Cut Flowers.” They recalled being huge fans of the Kinks and even sneaking into a soundcheck at the Orpheum before covering “Too Much on My Mind.” Mesaros mentioned when they played at the Rat too. The Maine/Boston connection threw me a bit off since they formed in New Jersey. Sounds like a couple of them went to school there. They spontaneously played the Who’s “Can’t Explain” after Mesaros recalled that it was one of the first songs they played together Babjak noted it was a good thing that Crenshaw knew the words.