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Popularity Plus : The Smithereens will bring their much-appreciated, Buddy Holly-meets-the-Beatles sound back to the Ventura Theatre.


The Smithereens are about as popular as free money. Everybody likes them and it isn't Sally Fields-type wishful thinking, either. Yep, that four-piece guitar band has friends from sea to shining sea, except for some punks in Helsinki who want to beat them into Jell-O.

Pushing their new release, "Blow Up," the Smithereens on Saturday night will make their third appearance at the Ventura Theatre. Also on the bill will be Ariel--yet another hot Ventura band with a dense sound, a thin bankroll and a new tape.

The Smithereens have been around for 11 years, which is long enough to figure out how to do hook-laden, guitar-driven, power-pop tunes that allow you to massacre them in the shower later.

With songs such as "A Girl Like You," "Blood And Roses" and "Top of the Pops," the band has a Buddy Holly-meets-the-Beatles sound, but with more decibels.

Bassist Mike Mesaros agreed to discuss the life and times of his favorite band while in L.A. doing a video shoot for "Too Much Passion," a single from the new album.

It seems as though the Smithereens have been on tour forever. Are you guys rich rock stars yet? Can you afford to escape New Jersey?

We're making a decent yuppie living. We started this tour at the end of September and it's going until the 21st. I don't live in New Jersey anymore, but Dennis (Diken, drummer-singer) and Jimmy (Babjak, guitarist-singer) still live there--they like it back there. I live in San Francisco now because I have a girlfriend there. I've been there for a year and a half, three years off and on. We're in L.A. now to shoot a video of a song off our album "Too Much Passion." Then we're doing an acoustic show at the Universal Amphitheatre for KROQ.

KROQ is kind to the Smithereens?

KROQ is always kind to the Smithereens. KLOS, too. Although both those stations play totally different music, the point between them can be seen at our shows because the audience runs the gamut. We attract young kids that are into punk rock and heavy metal to people in their 40s who enjoy the element of '60s music in our shows. Plus, we still rock as hard as any band in the world. And we're a big college radio band, too.

Will there always be guitar bands?

A guitar band, and what I mean by this is a non-heavy metal band, will always exist. It's been around since Buddy Holly, but stuff like rap, I think, is on the wane.

I read that you carry around earth from Buddy Holly's grave.

Yes, I do. I have it in an aspirin tin. I took it for good luck. It's a tradition when you visit Buddy Holly's grave to leave something, usually a guitar pick. But since I don't use a pick, I left my fingernail clippers.

How has Smithereens music changed over the years?

It's more mature in all aspects. Pat's songs (Pat DiNizio is a guitarist and lead vocalist) are more mature and the individual musicianship is better. Now we have time to work on our craft, and we're just better as a group.

What was your strangest gig?

One of them was in 1984 when we went to Helsinki for our first album, "Beauty and Sadness." It was our first taste of touring outside the New York metropolitan area, and all these punks were spitting at us, yelling, "Yankee, go home!" One of them grabbed the mike from Pat's hand, so we put our instruments down and got into a big old fight. The funny thing is, we got back on stage and kept playing after the bouncers threw the punks out. That's one of our strange ones. I can tell you our best gig.

OK, tell me.

It was just 10 days ago and I'm still on a high from that one. We were on the bill at Boston Gardens for a Christmas concert and Ray and Dave Davies were doing an acoustic set. We told them we'd be honored to back them up and we ended up doing "Lola" and "You Really Got Me" with them before 15,000 people on their feet. I've been a Kinks fan since the '60s and saw them for the first time in 1971.

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