[Note: Click on any picture to embiggenate.]
Last night was the second of our September concerts, the Smithereens. Shane and Matt picked us up at 5 pm (None of our cars—Ken’s or mine—are comfortable for four people...thanks for driving, Shane!), and we headed west to Valparaiso. We ran into a little rain on the way, but it began to clear as we got further west.
However, we were soon to encounter an incident that would test our strength and will...a trial by fire that would push us to our limits and threaten to plummet us into deep, dark despair....
Okay, it was a flat tire. Shane was recently told that Joan Jetta has some slightly bent rims, so apparently she is very sensitive to large bumps, and we came upon road construction suddenly and without warning (thanks for the SIGNS, INDoT!). One of those deals where the pavement had been stripped down, leaving manhole covers a couple of inches higher than the roadway. One hit on those and poor Joan sprained her ankle. Shane was able to pull off into a parking lot, got all the needed materials out of the trunk, and Ken proceeded to change the tire. Matt and I milled around and I tried to offer moral support and lend a hand where I could (grabbing the flat tire and rolling it back to the trunk, for example), and it really didn’t take too long to get it taken care of and get back on the road. I think everyone was on the verge of being upset, but we still had plenty of time to get there, and we were glad it didn’t happen when it was dark, and that it wasn’t super cold. However, we couldn’t help but shake our heads over the déjà vu. The same thing happened when we went to see the Godfathers in Chicago! The four of us, concert, Joan Jetta, flat tire. This incident went a little smoother, and we were all determined to not let it spoil our outing. For better or worse, we tend to be optimists!
We made it to Valparaiso without further incident, and found the restaurant we were going to. Shane and Matt took a drive recently, and while going through Valparaiso, Matt spotted a place called Industrial Revolution. We all agreed that it sounded like a neat place, so that’s where we went. Really neat atmosphere, sort of a focus on the “working man,” with statues of steel workers, industrial decor (we agreed that the steel girders overhead made it seem like we were standing under the El in Chicago), and sayings about the strong work ethic of workers written on the walls. They even had a small working train that circled on an overhead track. Neat place! The food was fantastic, too. Ken had some sort of bacon burger, I had a burger stuffed with olives, Matt had a Waldorf burger, and Shane had...perch. Haha! He was in a fish and chips kinda mood, so he decided to be a rebel. We tried a bite or two of each other’s meals, and everything was tasty. Next time, I’d probably have my burger medium well rather than the default medium, but it was still delicious.
Then it was time to make our way downtown to the Memorial Opera House. I had looked it up online, and it was built in 1893 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The facade is beautiful, but they really need to do some work on the interior! That is taking place, but in a small town, I’m sure funds for such things are limited, so they can only do so much so fast. I hope they can continue to preserve the place, because it’s a nice, small theater. Definitely an “intimate” venue, with fewer than 300 seats!
Okay, now for the show. I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can focus on the good stuff. First of all, this was an old crowd. I’m not even going to say “older,” because they just seemed OLD to me. I suspect that they sell season tickets to events at the Theater, and many of these folks were more of the “musical comedy” set, and just happened to find themselves at a rock concert. I know, I know...I’m 50, so I suppose technically, I’m old, too! But I don’t FEEL that way, and I was ready to rock to one of my all-time favorite bands! I was standing and kind of dancing at one point, and Ken said to me, “You’re the only one standing.” I said, “I don’t care!” Haha! I hope I didn’t embarrass him too much!
Second, this was billed as the Smithereens playing some Beatles songs and their own hits. They released an album that was a song-for-song remake of “Meet the Beatles” called “Meet the Smithereens,” and I really enjoyed it. I figured they’d play a handful of Beatles tunes interspersed with their own songs. It was kind of the opposite. They’d play about three Beatles songs and then a Smithereens song. Boooo! I was sitting during the Beatles songs. I mean, they’re great songs, and they play them very, very well, but I didn’t come to hear a Beatles cover band. I came to hear the Smithereens. How many times have I heard those Beatles songs? I won’t say “too many,” because they’re wonderful, timeless songs, but definitely “plenty.” I wanted to hear the Smithereens, dammit!
Now for the good stuff. This is a group of excellent musicians. It was such a small venue that the sound was incredible—completely undistorted, crisp, and clear. The vocals were understandable and not muffled at all. Each member played and sang great, and I would say that they are definitely superb craftsmen in their profession. The guitarist, drummer, and bass player were just fantastic, and Pat, the lead singer, still has a great voice. For a band of four, they make a great “wall of sound” with just lead, rhythm, and bass guitars, and drums.
As I said, their Beatles covers were very well done, but when they sang their own songs, that is when they really shined. These are just fantastic songs that still hold up well. They rock hard, but they are melodic. They did “Blood and Roses,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Only a Memory,” “A Girl Like You,” “Sorry,” “Top of the Pops,” “House We Used to Live In,” and one of my favorites, “Blues Before And After.” They also did a cover of a Who song from “Tommy,” and although I can’t recall the name of that one, they ROCKED it! Many of these came at the end of the set, when they asked people to come up to the stage and rock out. That is when they really kicked it in, and little me was able to sneak my way right up to the stage, where I danced and sang and had fun. Other fun extras were a snippet of “Get Together” by the Youngbloods and...I kid you not...the Batman theme! That is surf music at its heart, so I was having fun dancing to that. I was right in front of the guitarist, Jim Babjak, and he was tearing it up! He gave me one of his guitar picks, and when they finished up, I shook his hand, and then he took my hand and kissed it. Aww!
They were available a little later in the lobby, and I had come prepared with my CD insert for “Especially For You,” probably my favorite album of theirs. They all signed it, and Jim, the guitarist, took it and said, “Oh wow...I was a kid then!” I said, “So was I!” (It was released in ‘86.) I told him that they really tore it up with their own songs, and they should play more of them. Jim said, “I think so, too!” Maybe he wants to rock out a little more? It sure sounded like it! So here is my advice to you guys: you have an incredible catalogue of music, with some of the best pop songs from the past few decades. You saw the reaction to your own music...people were dancing and yelling and absolutely loving it, while everyone was sort of “meh” with the Beatles stuff. Not because you don’t do it well, but because we’ve heard it so many times before. Your main strengths are your great musicianship and your truly excellent songs...some of them really rock, some are a little slower, but they’re all very good. As the Kinks said, give the people what they want. We don’t want another Beatles cover band...we want the Smithereens!
Thanks to Ken, Shane, and Matt who were willing to stick around so I could stand in line and get my CD signed. I am proud and pleased to add it and the pick to my little collection of memorabilia (along with my signed Dennis “Machinegun” Thompson drumsticks, my CD insert signed by Fee Waybill of the Tubes, and my Devo smiley face super ball). Thanks to the Smithereens for rocking out most awesomely, and I hope I get another chance to see you, and that you play almost all of your own songs, because they really are fantastic! There is a reason I’ve loved you all these years. The fact that I was dripping with sweat after dancing up by the stage should tell you! (See picture for proof. I worked up a sweat!)
Our next and final September concert is coming up in two days! It’s the Whip It To Shreds tour with Blondie and Devo. It will be the third time I’ve seen Blondie and the second time I’ve seen Devo. We are once again going with Shane and Matt, so fingers crossed that we won’t have a déjà three when it comes to Joan Jetta’s tires!
Rock on, Citizens.