The Smithereens/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/January 21, 2017
In Scotch Plains, New Jersey, a young Pat DiNizio became a music fan in 1964 after watching the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show. One night in the 1970s, DiNizio purchased an out-of-print Buddy Holly album, and listening to it inspired him to become a singer/songwriter/guitarist. Meanwhile, in nearby Carteret, New Jersey, drummer Dennis Diken, guitarist Jim Babjak and bassist Mike Mesaros met as high school students and jammed together throughout the 1970s. DiNizio and Diken met through a classified ad DiNizio placed in The Aquarian Weekly looking for a drummer. Initially they formed a new wave cover band called the Like but retired the band after just one gig. In 1980, DiNizio wanted to record demos of some original songs and needed a drummer, so he contacted Diken. Diken eventually recruited Babjak and Mesaros. The quartet became The Smithereens, adopting the name from the cartoon character Yosemite Sam’s catchphrase, “Varmint, I’m a-gonna blow you to smithereens!” The band’s seventh and most recent studio album of original songs, 2011, was released in 2011.
The Smithereens headlined once again at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, but this time was different. The first thing the audience noticed was that Mesaros was back in the band after a 10-year hiatus. Secondly, the audience could tell instantly that DiNizio’s arms appeared to be paralyzed. He later explained simply that he was having “work” done on his arms. (In 2014, DiNizio slipped on ice on his back porch and injured his hand. A couple of weeks later, he slipped in his bathtub and crashed his elbow on the side of the tub. These injuries left him with extensive nerve damage.) As a result, DiNizio did not play guitar at this gig. He was in fine voice, however, and the band behind him, now operating as a power trio, sounded more like The Who than ever. DiNizio mentioned often how the band has played together for 37 years, but nearly the entire set hearkened back to the band’s first decade of recordings. The band also revealed its early inspirations by covering Buddy Holly (“Well Alright”), The Beatles (“Please Please Me”) and The Who (“Sparks”). Between songs, DiNizio shared amusing anecdotes on Smithereens history but said very little about his or the band’s present or future. One can only hope that his arms heal so he can resume writing songs and playing guitar.
Wednesday 13/The Studio At Webster Hall/January 22, 2017
Joseph Poole, known professionally as Wednesday 13, is originally from Charlotte, North Carolina. A fan of campy horror, he named himself after the daughter in the Addams Family and the street address of The Munsters. Starting at age 16, Poole has played in Mizery, Psycho Opera, Maniac Spider Trash, Frankenstein Drag Queens From Planet 13, Murderdolls, Bourbon Crow, Gunfire 76, and the self-named horror punk band Wednesday 13. Wednesday 13’s sixth and most recent album is 2015’s concept album, Monsters of the Universe: Come Out and Plague. Poole currently lives in Los Angeles, California.
On stage at The Studio At Webster Hall without his traditional face paint, Poole told the audience that he has wanted to do an Undead Unplugged Tour for years. Hence, the current tour features Wednesday 13 and Roman Surman sitting on chairs and singing to acoustic guitars. The set spanned Wednesday’s catalogue of music from his early bands to more recent recordings. Normally, 13’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics are energized by hard rocking gothic, glam or metal; tonight the emphasis was on voice, lyrics and acoustic flourishes, presenting the catalogue in an entirely new light. The gritty Alice Cooper-like vocals remained, but all else was comparatively sedate. Nevertheless, songs like “Rambo” drew fist pumps and even a little head banging. Between songs, 13 recalled humorous road stories and dedicated several time segments to questions from the audience. After intermission, 13’s outlaw country side project, Bourbon Crow, performed an acoustic set; Bourbon Crow tonight consisted of Poole under the alias of Buck Bourbon, Surman and guitarist Rayen Belchere under the alias of Jessie Crow. It was a chill night for the undead.
The Band Of Heathens/City Winery/January 23, 2017
Three songwriters—Colin Brooks, Ed Jurdi and Gordy Quist—shared a Wednesday night residency in 2005 at a music club in Austin, Texas. They eventually started sharing the stage. A misprint in a local paper billed the act as “The Heathens” and so the three musicians began calling their collaboration The Band Of Heathens. Achieving a local following at first, the band was voted Best New Band at the 2007 Austin Music Awards and soon received growing attention on Americana radio stations. The Band Of Heathens’ fifth studio album, duende, was released on January 13, 2017. Brooks left the band in 2011, and so The Band Of Heathens presently consists of Jurdi and Quist on vocals and guitar, keyboardist Trevor Nealon, bassist Scott Davis and drummer Richard Millsap.
Headlining at City Winery, The Band Of Heathens played a heartland rock set that was bigger than the musicians’ native state. As the music began, The Band Of Heathens sounded like a slick, commercial country band, but as the evening progressed, the music expanded into looser and thicker jams. Each of the five musicians seemed to bring distinctive flavors to the mix. Rooted in a southern-simmered gumbo, the music included some blues, some country twang and some barrel-house honky tonk. Some songs recalled the Band, while other songs pivoted on guitar work reminiscent of the Grateful Dead, but by the end of the set, The Band Of Heathens was a full-fledged, high-energy rock and roll band.
The Black Clouds/Pianos/January 24, 2017
There is a rock band called The Black Clouds in Seattle, Washington, and there was a band with the same name in Washington D.C. ; the latter band is now called We Were Black Clouds. There is a third band named The Black Clouds, this one from Spring Lake, New Jersey, just south of Asbury Park. More influenced by the Seattle era than the Asbury Park sound, this band formed in 2004 and consists of guitarist/vocalist Dan Matthews, guitarist Neil Hayes, bassist Gary Moses and drummer Cory King. The Black Clouds’ third album, After All, was released on January 6, 2017.
The Black Clouds set at Pianos recalled the alternative hard rock of the grunge age, but it appeared the band was not completely locked into retro mode. Raw and heavy, with all amplifiers turned to loud settings, Matthew’s vocals moved from softer melodic modalities to angst-ridden blasts. Meanwhile the band boomed its fury, embracing primitive punk and metal trajectories with sludgy, distorted guitar lines, deep bass lines and pile-driving drums. Choruses often went in the opposite direction, however, floating with pop harmonies. The Black Clouds consistently hugged their 1990s influences, but were daring enough to inject a few interesting twists.