When The Smithereens first came together as a band, the quartet were musically bonded by a mutual admiration of British invasion acts, from The Beatles to The Who and The Kinks.
In December, the New Jersey rock band mourned the loss of frontman Pat DiNizio, who died on Dec. 12, just as they were announcing a winter tour, which included a stop with Patty Smyth and Scandal at The Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank, NJ. Rather than cancel the Jan. 13 show, the musicians decided that the show must indeed go on, and it was fitting that one of DiNizio’s musical heroes — Dave Davies of The Kinks — was on hand to say goodbye in a moving tribute: “Time and Time Again: A Celebration of Pat DiNizio.”
Davies took to the microphone to say a few words on what he called a “poignant and sad” occasion, before dedicating his own song, “Strangers” to the late singer.
“I don’t want to get too emotional, but I thought Pat had one of the most unique rock voices,” he said. “We are here to celebrate a great singer and a great band, The Smithereens.”
The evening—which kicked off with a set by Scandal that included their own “The Warrior” and cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” in DiNizio’s honor—was presented by E Street Band member Steven Van Zandt as part of the Sirius XM Channel’s Underground Garage channel at the Basie.
After Scandal’s set, DiNizio was honored by several recorded video tributes—including Pete Yorn who sang a snippet of “Strangers When We Meet” and producer Don Dixon, who said “Pat was complicated” and praised his “instinctive musicality..that can’t be taught.” Other recorded tributes from Suzanne Vega, Graham Parker (who said the band was “a breath of fresh air”), Mark Hudson, Southside Johnny, and Willie Nile all elicited warm responses from the crowd, many of who watched the show from a special open floor configuration in the venue just for the performance.
For the remainder of the show, The Smithereens — guitarist Jim Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken, and bass player Mike Mesaros — were joined by a rotating roster of vocalists, including Van Zandt, former Bongos front man Richard Barone, Gin Blossoms front man Robin Wilson, ZouZou Mansour, The Grip Weeds, Kenny Howes, John Jorgenson, Marshall Crenshaw, Freedy Johnston, Ted Leo, Graham Maby, Lenny Kaye and Tony Shanahan, Servero Jornacion, The Fleshtones’ Peter Zaremba and Keith Streng, and strong turns from every member of The Smithereens.
Vocal highlights of the evening included Wilson in several appearances, among them: “Blues Before and After,” “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Green Thoughts” and “Blood and Roses,” Ted Leo, completely embracing the moment and sounding so close to DiNizio on “Miles from Nowhere” it induced goosebumps, Barone — who drummer Diken thanked for giving The Smithereens a break opening for his band, The Bongos, before delivering a beautiful version of “Cut Flowers,” Bebe Buell bringing a punk rock ethos (and surprise hug and kiss to Babjak on stage) in a spirited “Top of the Pops, Johnston’s sullen interpretation of “Cigarette” and gorgeous turn on “In a Lonely Place,” The Grip Weeds psychedelic melded harmonies for “Now and Then,” Kaye and Shanahan (of The Patti Smith group) bringing rock star cool on “She’s Got A Way,” and Babjak—who is a proud member of the White Castle hall of fame—bringing down the house with “White Castle Blues” after passing out the tasty treat to the crowd. Van Zandt turned the volume up to 11 on two songs (“Sorry” and the show closer “A Girl Like You”).
Nods to DiNizio’s influences were touched on as well, with Crenshaw beautifully delivering Buddy Holly’s “Well… All Right” before “Strangers When We Meet,” and John Jorgenson (joined by The Grip Weeds’ Rick Reil, Kurt Reil and Kristin Pinell) appropriately chose George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass” for the occasion.
Most touching was the words of DiNizio’s band mates, particularly Mesaros, who said “the songs will never die.”
“There will never be another one like him,” added Diken. “Pat was one of a kind.”
Seated in the audience was Bruce McDonald, former music director of Boston’s WFNX and Eatontown, New Jersey’s WHTG-FM, who had a long history with the band and traveled a great distance just for the show.
“Tonight was literally a flood of Smithereens memories,” he said. “’In a Lonely Place’ slayed me, and ‘Blood and Roses’ recalled our hang at Pat’s first New York City pad off of Avenue A in which Pat showed me the acoustic bass on which he wrote that famous bass line. Mike’s poignant line intro of “Pat gave me the greatest gift” gave me chills, as did the respect their peers displayed for my friends-everybody stayed for the shows entirety and rocked out to the tunes backstage.”
Proceeds from the evening — including a donation of $10,000 from White Castle — will benefit the establishment of the Pat DiNizio Musical Performance Scholarship Fund.