The Star Spangles
Photo credit: Howard Thompson
Something Old, Something New . . .
A headlining appearance by the Smithereens would have been appropriate 15 years ago. The band had emerged from the New Jersey bar circuit and enjoyed success in the ‘80s with the hits “A Girl Like You”, “Only a Memory” and “Blood & Roses”. Built around Pat DiNizio’s broodingly sharp lyrics and fine guitar work, the Smithereens parlayed their working band ethic into a modest national following by decade’s end. Similar to Southside Johnny and the Long Ryders, the Smithereens were never able to completely break away from their roots, always staying within close proximity to the garage. The biggest knock was that DiNizio and company were always considered genuinely good guys, almost vanilla in their presentation, lacking suitable amounts of attitude to complement the somberness of their songs.
Once the ‘90s dawned, grunge took hold and the Smithereens seemed to really become only a memory. Now 23 years after forming, they found themselves center stage once again at one of New York’s hottest music venues.
Although the years have taken their toll on DiNizio’s waistline, his voice still resonates as it did in the group’s heyday. The band remained note perfect throughout, never wavering despite playing for just under two hours. All the fan favorites were given special treatment, as well as some oldies but goodies that may have otherwise been forgotten. While the small legion of Smithereens loyalists enjoyed the entire evening, the highlight of the set came via the spirited cover of the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me”.
Essentially, the Smithereens are what they’ve always been, a thoughtful bunch of guys playing what they enjoy. Even in middle age they’re still having fun, and genuinely appreciated the crowd support. During a song break, DiNizio made a point to mention that the band was working on material for a new album. Will it have the bite of 1986’s debut Especially For You? Probably not, but let’s give DiNizio the benefit of the doubt and see if his songwriting talents remain intact. If not, the band may simply continue touring clubs and revisiting its previous work.
And what of opening act the Star Spangles? Riding high on the recent release of their major label debut, (Bazooka!!!, Capitol Records), and gearing up for an appearance with David Letterman, the Spangles treated their fans to an energized thirty minute set. Paying homage to the New York City roots from which they have blossomed, the band’s unpolished sound is an interesting mix of New York Dolls and Television, while they bear a close visual resemblance to Deborah Harry-led Blondie. Harkening back to the glorious punk days of the mid 1970s, the Spangles embody the artistic street urchin sensibilities that took hold in legendary clubs like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City.
With a musical resurgence occurring two years ago led by the White Stripes, integrity should have become a plentiful commodity as countless new bands emerged from the proverbial woodwork. Unfortunately the pool of talent became polluted with a plethora of style over substance phonies: spoiled rich kids acting like slackers (the Strokes), moronic losers acting like slackers (the Vines), and no talent slackers acting like, well, no talent slackers (Sum 41). The Star Spangles offer something different, as they are true to their influences, and their songs boast an authentic raw pop edginess to them. Toss in a generous helping of youthful exuberance to their repertoire, and the Spangles impressed by putting on a damn fine show.
For those in attendance, a perplexing time traveling picture became clear: the Star Spangles, who represent a throwback to days long gone, are making a name for themselves in the present, while the Smithereens, a product of the past, are hoping to remain viable in the future. Who can say what tomorrow holds, but a wise man might place a wager on the Spangles.