True fans of the Smithereens know that there’s plenty of music to listen to if you just do a little searching. For example, in October, iTunes released “The Smithereens Live at the Roxy,” a live recording of the legendary Carteret band’s first-ever Los Angeles concert, with 19 incredible tracks.
Earlier in 2014, the band released a collection of 23 covers from the likes of T.Rex, The Who, Bruce Springsteen and The Kinks—available on the band’s website, as well as the iTunes store.
Before that, there was loads of music over the past dozen years, highlighted by the band’s first attempt of new music with Smithereens 2011, since 1999’s God Save the Smithereens.
“We still put out a lot of albums, it’s just that nothing with much original material,” says Pat DeNizio, founder and leader of the group. “I had done a solo album a couple of years ago which was sort of a stealth Smithereens album with everyone except [drummer] Dennis [Diken], who wasn’t available, so it’s not as though we have been inactive.”
Those following closely know that the Smithereens also released a lot since 2000. There were several well-received live albums, a greatest hits anthology, a Christmas album and three widely popular tribute albums: Meet The Smithereens and B-Sides, both Beatles tributes, and The Smithereens Play Tommy.
On Friday, January 23, the Smithereens will be returning to the State Theater in Falls Church to play a show full of fan favorites and some surprises from many of these recordings.
“We work very hard to keep things “us.” We’re one of the few bands left to plug the guitars directly into the amps,” DeNizio said. “At the same time, every night is something different and the sound isn’t entirely what you would hear on the recording.”
It’s been quite the ride for DiNizio and his band. When he was 13, DiNizio worked on his dad’s garbage truck, and spent nearly two decades earning an honest living while trolling away in music with his high school friends Jim Babjak, Mike Mesaros and Dennis Diken in the basement of his New Jersey home.
Calling themselves the Smithereens, the band had a sound reminiscent of the Beatles and brought ’60s power pop to the ’80s. Their first performance was in Hillside, N.J., in March 1980, and over the next five years they released popular EPs “Girls About Town” and “Beauty and Sadness.”
They came onto the national radar in 1988, and the first single, “Only a Memory,” not only became a college and modern rock hit, but it crossed over to album-rock stations as well. Soon after, they hit it big with chart-topping tunes “Blood and Roses” and “A Girl Like You.”
“I was 31 when we hit, and we didn’t just open the door, we kicked it down,” DiNizio says. “I’ve met a lot of young kids who made it right away and they have no idea what it’s like to live in the real world and have real responsibilities. For us, we appreciated everything that was happening and aimed to be the best we could.”
In addition to touring regularly, DeNizio and his bandmates spend a lot of time pursuing other opportunities. In addition to launching solo careers and playing with other bands, DiNizio himself spent a few years in our area, working for XM Satellite radio.
“I was living in an 1863 house with a bunch of misfits in D.C. proper, performing occasionally at local venues, including the State Theatre. I really enjoyed my time in the area,” he says. “I played a number of solo shows at the State and it’s a great venue. Last year the Smithereens played there and it’s somewhere that I feel at home.”
The Smithereens have been plugging away for decades, which has left DiNizio with a wealth of anecdotes and behind-the-scenes dish and gave him the idea for a one-man show, “Confessions of a Rock Star,” which began in Las Vegas and now plays weekly at the Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park, NJ.
“I think the show offers the audience something they can’t find anywhere else,” DiNizio says. “It’s real rock and roll, not watered down by any stretch of the imagination, in addition to being the story of a guy who was a garbage man for his whole life and then woke up one morning and had a hit song on the radio.”
During the show, a live band performs the hits that shaped DiNizio’s childhood, paying tribute to his musical heroes such as The Beatles and Buddy Holly, and also playing select tunes from the Smithereens. Video screens show rare footage and photos that accompany the musical journey from his earliest roots in New Jersey.
“The best thing is that I can get out whenever I need to do a Smithereens show, so it’s really the best of both worlds,” he says. “We have great fans—really I should call them supporters—and they have followed us all along and we’re going to continue taking them on our journey.”