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Smithereens still at the top of their game

NIAGARA FALLS -- The Smithereens turned the Bear's Den in Seneca Niagara Casino into every local power-pop aficionado's living room.

During a 90-minute set Friday night, the New Jersey band reminded the assembled that it remains one of the finest rock ensembles of its generation.

More significantly, the band reprised the grand chorus: "Good songs never go out of style." Time may have left the Pat Dinizio-led Smithereens behind in terms of commercial plaudits, but nothing can diminish the power of the material. Dinizio, it seems, never wrote a song that didn't boast a killer hook -- the kind you just can't forget, even if you want to.

He and his band are also, as it turns out, more than adept at covering the greatest of the greats with dignity and grace.

Most of the band's current tour has been given over to covering its breakthrough effort, "Smithereens 11," from front to back. Dinizio led his old friends through a set that included that album, and so much more. The Smithereens did indeed grab a couple of hits, and not just the set opener, "A Girl Like You." Four of the band's tunes charted high, and most of Friday's set was given over to suggesting that many more could've and should've been granted a similar fate.

The band -- Dinizio on guitar and vocals, guitarist Jim Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken, and on Friday, a fill-in bassist identified as the "Tornado from Toledo" -- is certainly indebted to its Brit-Invasion forebears.

The band also found the sweet spot during "Blues Before and After," before breaking from the "Smithereens 11" script to toss in the indelible, Buddy Holly-indebted "Only A Memory" and the pure Kinks/Who bacchanal, "The Top of the Pops." Throughout the show, Dinizio addressed the assembled in a warm, informal manner. Group members made it plain that, after nearly 30 years of playing together, they still felt the same rush from the same four chords they felt as kids, banging out riffs in their parents' basements and garages.

We did get a rather savage run-through of "Behind the Wall of Sleep" -- not the Black Sabbath tune of the same name, mind you, but the dark pop song Dinizio crafted around a perfect Holly/McCartney-informed hook -- and soon after it, a new ballad christened "Since You Went Away."

The audience also heard a healthy dose of the album, "The Smithereens Play Tommy," an interpretation of the Who's grand rock opera. A torrid version of the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes," with the audience singing along at a crisp, clear volume, acted as the final encore.



The Smithereens

Pops concert Friday evening in the Bear's Den, Seneca Niagara Casino, Niagara Falls.

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