I haven’t been to all of the main Light of Day concerts that have been held in the event’s 24-year history. But I have been to a lot of them: I’ve seen them at The Stone Pony and The Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, as well as The Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, and the event’s current home, The Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank.
And two of my favorite Light of Day moments, ever, happened at this year’s show, which took place Jan. 20.
The first was seeing headliner Max Weinberg’s Jukebox play The Who’s “I Can See for Miles.” Now, I’m on record as wanting to hear this band play this song: When I reviewed the group’s first show ever, at City Winery in New York in 2017, I wrote that this was the song on their list of potential numbers that I was most disappointed not to hear. Keith Moon is my favorite drummer, and I consider his wildly unconventional studio performance on this song to be one of his finest moments. I never got to see him do it live: Seeing Mighty Max Weinberg try his hands at it would be the next best thing.
So you can imagine how happy I was when Weinberg said that someone had requested “I Can See for Miles” backstage — thank you!, whoever you are — and that he was going to do it, to close the set. “I can remember as a kid … in my room, listening over and over and over again to this song, trying to figure out what the hell Keith Moon was doing,” Weinberg told the audience. “Sixty-some-very-odd years later, I still don’t know, but I’m going to give it a shot.”
He played it brilliantly, too, nailing its sense of barely controlled frenzy. Now if only someone could persuade Bruce Springsteen to play this song when the E Street Band tour resumes in March … (Weinberg told the crowd, by the way, that Springsteen is “feeling excellent” and “ready to rock,” after postponing the tour due to peptic ulcers.)
My second favorite moment of the concert came moments later, when virtually all of the show’s participants — literally, scores of them — were onstage for the encores. They had sung “Happy Birthday to You” to Light of Day founder Bob Benjamin, whose name is in the show’s title (“Bob’s Birthday Bash”), and who joined them onstage. I was expecting them to segue immediately into Springsteen’s “Light of Day,” according to Light of Day tradition. But before they did that, they joined together for a group version of Jesse Malin’s bittersweet “Brooklyn,” as a tribute to the Light of Day regular who had to miss this year’s edition of the fundraising WinterFest — which raises money and awareness, as it always does, for the fight against Parkinson’s disease and related ailments — due to his own physical challenges. (Malin suffered a spinal stroke in May, and is now partially paralyzed.)
Individual performers sang lines of the verses, “We Are the World”-style, and everyone sang the choruses together. Weinberg sat at his kit, not playing, at first, but eventually joined in, adding to the song’s rock power.
Seconds after the song ended, Weinberg kicked off the show-closing “Light of Day” — led by Joe Grushecky, with everyone else joining in — with an explosive flourish.
In general, Weinberg plays in a flashier style with the Jukebox than he does with the E Street Band. Springsteen doesn’t have much use for fancy fills — he famously found Weinberg via a classified ad that specified “no jr. Ginger Bakers.” But with the Jukebox, Weinberg is the star attraction, and gives himself a longer leash.
Weinberg was joined by all four members of the band The Weeklings at this show — Bob Burger and John Merjave on guitars and vocals, Glen Burtnik on bass and vocals, and Weeklings drummer Joe Bellia on percussion. With Weinberg occasionally venturing into the audience to ask for requests, they played classic-rock hits such as The Animals’ “It’s My Life,” Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl,” Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” and The Band’s “The Weight.” They were particularly good on a feverish version of Tom Petty’s “American Girl” and Springsteen’s “Pink Cadillac.” (Weinberg said that when he plays this song with Springsteen, he thinks it’s Max Weinberg & the E Street Band, and that the only other song on which that happens is “Candy’s Room”).
Weinberg also graciously exited the stage to let The Weeklings perform a song on their own, the catchy “Like We Used to Do,” from their new Raspberry Park album.
Not counting The Weeklings separately, there were 17 acts on this Light of Day bill, and they played for more than five hours, with short acoustic sets between the longer band sets. Some acts — such as Grushecky and his band the Houserockers, Willie Nile, Dramarama, and Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan — have been performing at Light of Day shows from the start, or at least for many years. Others — including Low Cut Connie, Remember Jones, Fantastic Cat, Williams Honor and Jake Thistle — have become involved more recently, and have helped to keep the festival vibrant with their talent and energy.
Joe P, formerly of the band Deal Casino and now gathering steam as a solo artist, was given a prime acoustic-set slow, between Nile and Grushecky.
Throughout the course of the evening, several songs, in addition to “Brooklyn,” were dedicated to Malin. My favorite was “Trapped,” performed by Williams Honor. This soaring Jimmy Cliff song, popularized by Springsteen, is open to interpretation: It could be about political persecution, or being trapped in a bad personal relationship. But when Williams Honor performed it in this context, the line “I know I’ll walk out of here again” took on new, inspirational meaning.
Light of Day has raised approximately $6 million for its cause, over the years. Underscoring its mission, participants in The Hackensack Meridian JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s ParkinSINGs program — a therapeutic choir for those with Parkinson’s disease — filled the Basie stage before the show began, and entertained patrons while they entered and took their seats.
One show remains in this year’s WinterFest. It will take place Jan. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at The Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair, and will feature Williams Honor, D’Urso, Thistle, James Maddock, Anthony D’Amato (of Fantastic Cat), Danielia Cotton, Adam Ezra, Amanda Cross & Derek Cruz, Emily Grove, Jon Caspi, and Deni Bonet & Chris Flynn. For information, visit lightofday.org or outpostintheburbs.org.
Here is a photo gallery from the Jan. 20 concert and, below it, some videos.
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