I’ve seen The Smithereens in concert many times over the years, but never like this: As a nine-piece group, with three horn players, a violinist and a keyboardist in addition to the band’s core quartet. The group played in this configuration as part of its set Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, when they headlined the main concert of the 16th annual Light of Day Festival. And this allowed them to do some things they normally can’t, such as filling out “Too Much Passion” with layers of sound and bringing a touch of big band swagger, with the horns blaring away, to “Indigo Blues.”
Though the band originally announced it would play its 1986 album, Especially for You, in its entirety at this show, this did not come to pass. Only two tracks from that album, “Blood and Roses” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” made it into the setlist, though the band also performed the song “Especially for You” (from its 1988 Green Thoughts album). Still, it was a very satisfying set, loud, passionate and uncompromising — a great exclamation mark for a festival that seems to be having a very good year. Light of Day shows I’ve gone to this year at House of Independents, the Wonder Bar and Montclair’s Outpost in the Burbs have been sold out or close to it, and I couldn’t even get in to see Eddie Manion at Tim McLoone’s Supper Club on Saturday afternoon because the venue was already at capacity.
Anyway, back to The Smithereens … the set had lots of hits, one truly big surprise (a cover of the Carpenters ballad, “We’ve Only Just Begun”), and a memorable peak with a medley of “House That We Used to Live In” and the Who’s explosive instrumental “Sparks” (from Tommy).
But the show didn’t stop there. Joe Grushecky, who had played with his band The Houserockers earlier in the evening, came back to lead the ensemble in “Happy Birthday to You” (in honor of festival founder Bob Benjamin) and festival theme song “Light of Day,” plus a “Twist and Shout”/”La Bamba” medley. By the time Benjamin said his final thank yous, goodbyes and see you tomorrows (there’s another full slate of shows today), it was almost 2 a.m.
And this was a show that started at 6:30 p.m., meaning it was a solid 7½ hours of music. There was no intermission, and acoustic singer-songwriters played between the bands, so the breaks between sets were extremely short.
Not surprisingly, some David Bowie covers were scattered through the evening. Jesse Malin was the most ambitious, opening his set with Bowie’s “Time,” which has the theatrical feel of a Kurt Weill composition. But Willie Nile also performed “Heroes” (segueing to it from Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane”) and Williams Honor offered an engaging acoustic medley of “Space Oddity,” “Let’s Dance,” “Rebel Rebel” and “Heroes.”
Williams Honor also joined Grushecky and the Houserockers for a celebratory version of the Springsteen-written “Savin’ Up,” and the duo’s lead singer, Reagan Richards, returned to the stage to duet with The Smithereens’ Pat DiNizio on “A Girl Life You.”
Elsewhere … new Bon Jovi guitarist Matt O’Ree’s set of molten blues-rock included a guest appearance by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan … Dramarama’s frontman, John Easdale, asked the crowd to pick one of the group’s signature songs, “Last Cigarette” or “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You),” and then sang both of them anyway … Garland Jeffreys’ set included a slow, aching version of The Beatles’ “Help!” as well as his own anthemic “Wild in the Streets” … Joe D’Urso & Stone Caravan opened with a rousing take on Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” featuring Manion and other guests … original E Street Band drummer Vini “Mad Dog” Lopez also joined D’Urso and Stone Caravan, later in the set … James Maddock, Steve Forbert, Jill Hennessy, Ben Arnold and Emily Grove were among those presenting brief acoustic sets.
Light of Day has raised more than $3.5 million over the years for Parkinson’s disease research. After this weekend, that number will probably go past $4 million.
Here’s a video of Nile performing “Sweet Jane” and “Heroes.” Thanks to Gail Prusslin for taking it.