The Smithereens with Marshall Crenshaw perform at The Birchmere on March 19, 2022. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
That the last two years have been unkind to live music might be the understatement of the season. Bands who thrived on live performance were forced to hunker down, ride out the unavoidable pandemic pause, and wait until the proverbial “numbers” came down before performing in front of actual people again.
The Smithereens were scheduled to perform in Northern Virginia in October 2020 which, not knowing how long the pandemic pause would last, was then rescheduled to May 2021. Which, of course, was rescheduled again. Last week, the long-awaited return of the New Jersey-based band finally happened. And what a show it was! The Smithereens stormed back into a sold-out Birchmere and proceeded to melt the paint off the walls.
The year started out typically enough. But the way it began and how it’s ending are startlingly different. By the end of March, so many plans and hopes were dashed that now, as we race toward 2020’s conclusion, many of us feel they may never be realized.
Like so many others in this Year of Covid, I’ve had a chance to reflect, reassess, and reset for the coming year, sorting out what is, and isn’t, important. I enjoy photographing people, whether it be portraiture, cultural documentation, or musical performance. As a photographer, I strive to become invisible and capture moments as they are, not as I or the subject, would like them to be. Although photographing live music has been challenging as of late, I’ve been afforded the luxury of time to go through my archives and, as a result, have made a belated but important discovery: the final image must also render the photographer invisible.
The Smithereens perform at the State Theatre in Falls Church, Virginia, on Jan. 17, 2020. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
“In sickness and in health.”
Those words are normally reserved for particularly solemn occasions, but those same moments can be joyous, life-affirming and festive… much like a Smithereens concert, come to think of it. Friday night was just one of those instances with the New Jersey-based Smithereens making their 20th appearance at the State Theatre in Falls Church. For many of us battling colds, flu, and various other ailments, The Smithereens energetic, exuberant, and healing music was just the right medicine.
The Smithereens perform at State Theatre on Jan. 18, 2019. (Photo by Mark Caicedo)
Much has been written about the redemptive power of rock and roll; its ability to transport us to another place and time or to a cherished memory — as well as its power of community and the way a widely disparate audience can revel in a shared moment of unparalleled spontaneous joy. Those moments repeated themselves over and over at the State Theatre recently when The Smithereens featuring Robin Wilson dropped into town for their 19th performance at the historic Falls Church music venue.
The Smithereens for the State Theatre show, left to right: Jim Babjak (guitar), Robin Wilson (lead vocals), Dennis Diken (drums), and Mark Mesaros (bass) (Photo courtesy Lappen Enterprises)
Power pop aficionados think of the ’70s and ’80s as the genre’s heyday — an era that included performers like Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, years that saw the emergence of bands like Big Star and Cheap Trick, and a time that culminated with the Gin Blossoms and Matthew Sweet.
For many music lovers (myself included), The Smithereens captured all the salient characteristics of a classic power pop band: the jangly ringing Byrds-like guitars, the Beach Boys’ high harmonies, the Beatles melodic lyricism… and perhaps the crunching heaviness of Black Sabbath? But The Smithereens added an East-Coast, Jersey Shore roots-rock sensibility.