ASBURY PARK, NJ—Geena is an artist that has represented Asbury Park for as far back as I can remember. She was first featured here in Shoreworld by our own Chris Barry and she’s been an integral part of the scene ever since. Her band Dragster is infamous for its Spinal Tap outbursts of passion and fire. They’ve been known to fight like cobras and because of that, Dragster has gone through a veritable who’s-who of musical chair memberships.
Band arguments that would make Jerry Springer cry like a baby were an everyday occurrence up until recently, where Dragster has settled into a community-styled groove surrounded by A-list musicians and compositions to match. As a frontwoman, Geena utilizes Dragster to reinvent herself and her music, handling all of the hairpin turns in this tricky trade with aplomb, coming up with memorable songs that stay in your head days after the amps have been unplugged.
Tonight’s show at The Saint marked Geena’s birthday. And while it wasn’t the usual local crowd, the people who did show up were all Dragster friends decked in the party mode. Buono worked her frontwoman stance with the passion and believability of a local scene-queen in her prime. Riding dynamic six-string strategies and the rhythm blast of Marcus Croan and Jay Walker, Geena steered her dark and gritty sound right into the oncoming aural traffic of The Saint faithful.
Tunes like the textured dreamscape of “Far From Chelsea” and the forward full-jolt gallop of “My Love” are two well-known songs that demonstrate her fast-paced pop and rock prowess a la Duran Duran, Killing Joke and more.
The set was a trove of classic Dragster gems and the band shined bright on songs such as “History Repeats Itself” and “Lose Your Mind.” “She’s Nor Male” was a crowd favorite as was “Castaway” and “Ghetto Lifestyle.” Geena also gave us a taste of unique cover prowess with her final song of the night, a rocking, rowdy rendition of “Purple Rain” featuring the blazing guitar solo of ex-Borealis gunslinger Jimmy Farkas and Sunday Blues blaster Keith McCarthy. She also did a rousing version of Lennon’s “Instant Karma” with McCarthy and the band.
Special props go out to musical guest Aimee Kinsella, who played her heart out and made the night a very special success as well. Check out Geena and Dragster over at myspace.com/geenadragster. April Smith and The Big Picture Show
The Asbury Lanes
December 11, 2010
ASBURY PARK, NJ—Wandering through the compositional mind of April Smith is always an interesting journey. Her dark, Tin Pan Alley meets vaudeville, and ‘40s era swing leaves you with the feeling that you’re being lulled from a character straight out of The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus and into the mirror of decisions. She has always turned her back on easy commercialism and her sound towards the avant-garde of imagery. Her voice moves from frail passages to super highs pushed by a passion and soul of one completely driven, and her band meets her expectations for the wild ride of her style.
Smith has made some big, bold steps in her career that are starting to pay back well. Going back to 2008, she opened a national tour for singer-songwriter J.D. Souther (the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt). This summer a major music magazine branded April and the GPS one of 30 Bands To Watch at Lollapalooza, while over on Showtime’s Californication they featured Smiths “Terrible Things” in the season three promo. BBC 6 played “Colors” on Introducing: Fresh On The Net. She also appeared on the syndicated TV show Fearless Music and did sessions with WRXP-FM’s Matt Pinfield and WFUV-FM’s Rita Houston.
All of these accomplishments has led to her next stepping stone in the form of Songs For A Sinking Ship, a disc that was fan-funded through Kickstarter.com, an invitation-only website that helps musicians, artists, authors and other creators keep their work independent. By offering gifts of anything from homemade cookies to personalized songs and house concerts, April exceeded her $10,000 goal by a third, raising over $13,000 for the project.
Onstage, Smith’s demeanor is confident and precise. Her sharp wit, crushing charm and good looks don’t hurt when commanding her numerous and dedicated band. Decked in her trademark tutu and Gibson ES-330, April lets you know from note one that she is a serious contender birthed in the traditional nuance of The Andrew Sisters, Tom Waits and the regional cool of Ina Ray Hutton and Her Melodears and the Babe Egan and her Hollywood Redheads.
Picking through selections off of all three of her CDs, April started with the big band bang of “Movie Loves A Screen,” a feel-good, audience-participated number featuring big, loose tom-tom cannons, clanky, barroom piano and ukulele love throughout. Smith’s voice is infectious right from the get go and the Lanes ate her up.
“Terrible Things” is a quirky slide into a mad hatter splash. Mysterious, foot stomping and hand clapping, it’s a back alley pickpocket danger. Smith and crew do the snap finger lurch along the boulevard of irresistible secrets. It’s really more of what she doesn’t tell you on the song that’s the allure for me. Great big, scary Cab Calloway drums courtesy of Nick D’Agostino pushed this noir number into the very back of the room, driving the hipsters out of the bar cave and onto the floor to peer at Smith through scarves and rose-colored flannel. Speaking of hip, “Terrible Things” is seeing a lot of action as it was Showtime’s big pick for the season six teaser of Weeds, one of my favorite TV shows, with the delicious Mary-Louise Parker.
“Cant Say No” was another crowd favorite and shows Smith at her finest honky-tonk dame down on love luck. The studio version of this prohibition smoker is filled with sassy brass and ultra loose rhythms supporting ethereal harmonies and breathless lead vocals. The horn solo is classic mourning black. Think Tom Waits backing Skye Edwards and it might be close to the bone. Smith’s teeny tiny stature is like the proverbial Trojan horse as she belts out ranges that leave you saying, “Where does she keep all that?”
“The One That Got Away” is a down stroked bomber in the quirky vein of Elvis Costello and featuring the piano prowess of Ray Malo. I love the Beatles-meets-The Clash-styled vamping in the chorus. The lead work of O’Kane is simple and effective as it climbs a slinky vine to the bridge. I forget which song it was, but I loved O’kane’s two-handed tapping on the ukulele. Eddie VanHalen is spinning in his mansion.
“Dixie Boy” sees April slip into a hot bath of soul-tinged swagger. Sexy and badass, Smith tells you with conviction and sheer vocal power “Cause ladies, I’m a lady but please understand, when it comes to my boy, I will fight like a man.” And while Smith steps up to that line, the band beats the be-Jesus out of those laid back 4/4 pockets, deep down rhythmic cool, slow and easy with tremolo keys flying high over the top of Smiths fierce statement.
There’s much more that I can’t get to due to time, but it’s hard to top a Great Picture Show performance, and tonight was no exception. Songs For A Sinking Ship runs the maturing gamut of all this Toms River native has learned from living so far with a promise of even more magical growth to come. For further information on April Smith please visit her site over at aprilsmithmusic.com.