Sunday, August 22, 2021

Concert review: The Smithereens and Marshall Crenshaw return to The Coach House

From left, Jim Babjak, Marshall Crenshaw and Dennis Diken.

The capacity crowd who filled The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Saturday night (Aug. 21, 2021) to catch The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw were reminded over the course of 105 glorious minutes why we missed live music and the power of a rock concert so much during the pandemic.

Marshall Crenshaw at The Coach House.

Returning to the legendary venue for the first time since early February 2019 when the quartet performed a moving tribute to the late Smithereens singer-songwriter-guitarist 
Pat DiNizio (read my review of that concert event HERE), founding members Jim Babjak (guitars, vocals), Dennis Diken (drums, vocals) and Mike Mesaros (bass, vocals) along with Crenshaw (lead vocals, guitar) thrilled the audience with a dream setlist featuring the majority of the Carteret, New Jersey-spawned group's radio favorites as well as deep cuts that resonate as much now as when they were tracked in the studio. They also performed some rousing covers of classic rock favorites throughout their 21-song set. Several notable member of the Smithereens history-filled legacy were also on hand to catch the troupe on Saturday, including bassist Severo Jornacion and producer Ed Stasium

Jim Babjak having a blast in San Juan
Capistrano on Aug. 21, 2021.

Opening with "Behind the Wall of Sleep," the band offered a powerful take on the 1986 classic. Crenshaw's vocals blended well with the Smithereens' potent rock sound, and Babjak unleashed the first of a score of impressive lead guitar solos of the night. After performing an equally mighty version of "Top of the Pops" and the melodic "Sorry," Babjak noted "It's good to be back." Diken then added that the Smithereens had first performed at the Coach House in 1986. (This writer first saw the Smithereens at the venue when the band toured in support of its 1989 album 11.)

The Smithereens' high-energy rockers are great to be sure but the group's appearances are a perfect reminder that their more quiet songs are just as memorable. A touching performance of the Beatlesque "Strangers When We Meet" also served as a reminder that it was Crenshaw (credited as "Jerome Jerome") who played Hammond organ and piano on the studio version featured on 1986's Especially For You.

Dennis Diken in action at The Coach House.

The parade of great songs performed with authority and energy included "Only A Memory" and "Now And Then" (both bolstered by Diken and Babjak adding sublime harmonies to Crenshaw's lead vocals), an audience-pleasing reading of Badfinger's "No Matter What," the jazzy ballad "Especially For You" and elegant take on "Cut Flowers."

Jim Babjak of The Smithereens.

Babjak sang lead vocals on the aptly-titled "Life Is So 
Beautiful," a wistful original that began with him playing electric guitar alone before the rest of the band came in; the song's verses were understated while the instrumental breaks were majestic and explosive.

The Coach House audience enjoying every minute
of The Smithereens and 
Marshall Crenshaw.

"Miles From Nowhere" was another selection that fully showcased the collective might of the Smithereens' musicianship with Diken and Mesaros locked in as a fiery rhythm section while Crenshaw's rhythm guitar and Babjak's forceful lead work enhanced the collective magic of the song. 

Other late-set standouts included "Blood and Roses," and an ambitious encore spanning an affecting version of folk singer Tim Hardin's "Reason To Believe," a power pop-styled reading of The Kinks' "Where Have All The Good Times Gone?," a Southern rock run-through of the Allman Brothers Band's "Ramblin' Man" and epic take on their own 1989 hit "A Girl Like You."

This is one music writer  and admitted huge fan  who hopes we will be hearing more from the Smithereens soon.

The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw - Aug. 21, 2021 Setlist

Behind the Wall of Sleep / Top of the Pops / Sorry / Strangers When We Meet / Only a Memory / Now And Then / No Matter What (Badfinger cover) / Especially For You / Alone at Midnight / Cut Flowers / She's Got a Way / Life is so Beautiful / Miles From Nowhere / Drown In My Own Tears / House We Used To Live In / Sparks (a cover of the instrumental on The Who's Tommy) / Blood and Roses / ENCORE: Reason To Believe (Tim Hardin cover) / Where Have All The Good Times Gone? (Kinks cover) / Ramblin' Man (The Allman Brothers Band cover) / A Girl Like You 

Review by Robert Kinsler

Photography by Bob Steshetz 

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