Monday, August 30, 2010

Refreshing Pop In Palatine

Photo by Pam.

I feel totally vindicated. For the past few weeks, I’ve been riding around my home town of Palatine on a horse, telling everyone to come to The Smithereens and The Bad Examples concerts at the Downtown Palatine Street Fest. Well, I didn’t ride a horse so much as write a preview for the TribLocal and talk to a few of my neighbors. For power pop fans in Palatine, this was the most exciting event here since the Underground Garage Tour (minus Little Steven, unfortunately) came to Durty Nellies, with The Zombies as headliners. As I predicted, The Smithereens played a few songs by The Who and The Beatles along with their own high-powered hits, and The Bad Examples evoked Squeeze with their clever word play and infectious melodies.

The Smithereens took their usual workmanlike approach, quietly walking on stage a little after 10PM Saturday night, with no introduction or fanfare. They ran through a selection of originals before lead vocalist-guitarist Pat DiNizio mentioned The Smithereens had recorded their own version of The Who’s Tommy. This led to a lively rendition of “House We Used To Live In” that segued perfectly into powerful versions of “Sparks” and “The Acid Queen” from The Who’s rock opera. They only played one song from their pair of Beatles tribute CDs this time out, choosing “Ask Me Why,” from B-Sides The Beatles.

The temporary stage was set up in a parking lot, and as the band played songs like “Top Of The Pops,” “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Especially For You,” “Spellbound” and “She’s Got A Way,” I was able to wind my way through the crowd until I was close enough to feel the Severo Jornacion’s bass and Dennis Diken’s drums kicking against my chest like a giant foot.

Jornacion, nicknamed The Thrilla From Manilla, had fun interacting with the audience before unleashing the opening bass line of “Blood And Roses.” The Smithereens jammed extensively on this major hit, with Jornacion and lead guitarist Jim Babjak stepping out onto the speakers in front of the stage. Toward the end of the concert, a young kid ambled on stage, plugged in his guitar and started to play. After the song, DiNizio introduced the 14 year-old Zach, and explained that the boy's parents told him he had been raised listening to The Smithereens, and his ultimate dream was to play onstage with them. Zach kept his cool as members of his family watched elated, and he joined the band for an encore of “Girl Like You” that segued into Youngbloods’ “Get Together” and The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.”

Afterward, band members came out to sign autographs and give away Smithereens 30th Anniversary guitar picks. Three decades is a long time for a group to stay together, but The Smithereens have managed that feat by creating great songs and connecting with their fans.

* * * *

The Bad Examples’ performance at 4PM on Sunday came 25 hours after lead vocalist-guitarist Ralph Covert had Palatine parents and kids dancing and singing along with the silly but engaging tunes from his highly successful Ralph’s World CDs. For my full review of the Ralph’s World concert from last year’s Downtown Palatine Street Fest, see Pure Pop For Knee High People under Archive, August, 2009.

Downtown Palatine Street Fest also presented acts on the smaller gazebo stage, including Covert’s daughter, Fiona Grey and her guitarist/co-writer Matt Pingel. Although only in her mid-teens, Grey is already a polished performer with a good voice in the vein of Feist or Ingrid Michaelson. The duo’s mix of covers and originals lean more toward indie rock than the old man’s power pop or kids’ fare.

Covert’s work with The Bad Examples is notably harder-edged and more adult-oriented than what he does for Ralph’s World, but throughout both concerts, he exuded the enthusiasm of a kid having a blast on the playground. Backed by guitarist Tom O’Brien, the only musician other than Covert who’s in both lineups; drummer Larry Beers; bassist Tom “Pickles” Piekarski; and guitarist Steve Gerlach, Covert belted out familiar tunes like “Me And My Near-Blind Hindsight,” “A Mindless Pop Song,” “Let Her Go,” and “One Perfect Moment.” “Any Twisted Thing” had more of a funk rock feel, and as usual, “Not Dead Yet,” the rollicking hit that still garners regular airplay on WXRT, had just about everybody in the crowd joining in.

New songs, like the catchy “Pictures of a Masquerade” and taunting “I’m Still Living With Your Ex-Girlfriend,” as well as “You Don’t Understand Me,” a slower tune about a relationship coming apart, bode well for the new CD The Bad Examples plan to release this Fall. Another new song, which I’m guessing was called “Kill Amanda,” had the feel of classic Squeeze material. The Bad Examples closed their impressive set with the energetic “Let Her Go,” from the CD, Popscape - The Best of Ralph Covert And The Bad Examples.

It was a kick having The Smithereens and The Bad Examples playing outdoor shows in Palatine over the same weekend, and fortunately, the weather cooperated perfectly.


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