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Pop Music Review : The Smithereens Borrow With Interest

September 04, 1986|STEVE HOCHMAN

"Everything written about us compares us to the Beatles and the '60s thing, so bleep that--we're going to do a Beatles song," said Smithereens singer/guitarist Pat DiNizio as the quartet launched into a full-tilt version of "One After 909" as the first encore to its Monday performance at the Roxy.

That statement more or less summed up the strength of the New Jersey-based outfit. Much of what it does calls to mind someone else, but it is played with such verve and lack of self-consciousness as to avoid seeming derivative.

The Smithereens could best be described as equal parts Beatles (crisp Mersey-beat guitars, well-wrought melodies and harmonies), beatnik (the late-night Greenwich Village ethos of the goateed DiNizio's lyrics) and "This Year's Model"-era Elvis Costello. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that gives the group's music the aura of originality, though the tight instrumental power of Jim Babjak's six-string Rickenbacker guitar leads, Mike Mesaros' fat bass and Dennis Diken's rough, yet precise drum bashing broke through the reverent nostalgia that undermines so many similarly oriented bands.

Even when borrowing musical elements wholesale from other sources (the "Tomorrow Never Knows" exotic guitar and drum beat of the opening song, "Beauty and Sadness," the "Twist and Shout"/"Oh Pretty Woman" riff of "Time and Time Again"), the Smithereens' sound at the Roxy was still distinctive for its sheer force, if nothing else. Diversions into acoustic coffee-house folk and surf instrumentals served to throw the rest of the show's rock fury into sharper relief. All in all, this was a rare instance of a band standing up to comparisons to its influences.

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