Monday, October 13, 2014

Retro/Active: 1980s Acts Serve Up Old And New Material At The Arcada

Best wishes to Pat DiNizio and Brad Elvis, whose birthdays were yesterday and today, respectively.

It was no surprise that singer Tommy Heath of Tommy Tutone was the first to perform at the Rock Of The 80s Tour that stopped by the Arcada in St. Charles last Friday night. His band had only one hit and the other acts on the bill —Marshall Crenshaw, The Smithereens, and The Romantics—have maintained higher profiles, at least in the Midwest. But Heath set the tone for this enjoyable event by opening with an impressive rock song called “Red Wire,” taken from his upcoming Slow Learner CD. All four acts have released new material in recent years. Heath also offered a hard-hitting take on “Operator,” correctly describing it as a mashup of Jim Croce and The Clash. The audience rose to its feet for some spirited dancing and singing when Heath closed his short set with a rollicking “867-5309 /Jenny.”

Marshall Crenshaw followed immediately afterward, and surprisingly, he was also limited to only five songs. The singer-guitarist has a lot fans who would contend that he’s just as relevant as The Smithereens and The Romantics, who performed twice as long that night. Crenshaw showed no signs of resentment as he opened with a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.” He was ably assisted by drummer Mark Ortmann and bassist-backup vocalist Keith Voegele from Bottle Rockets, who had also backed Heath. Crenshaw slowed the tempo on “There She Goes Again,” just as he did on I Don’t See You Laughing Now, one of a series of three-song EPs he released in 2012. “Cynical Girl” and “Someday Someway” were closer to the original versions. A great set, but it would have been nice to hear some of Crenshaw’s other classics, like “Maryanne” and “I’m Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee).” 
New Jersey natives The Smithereens have a loyal following in the Chicago area, so the audience was primed for the band’s performance. Regular members singer-guitarist Pat DiNizio, guitarist-vocalist Jim Babjak, and drummer-vocalist Dennis Diken were joined this time out by Derrick Anderson, a veteran bassist who’s been playing with The Bangles for quite a while now. Anderson fit right in as The Smithereens blasted through power pop classic like “Behind The Wall Of Sleep,” “Time And Time Again,” and “Only A Memory.” They also played “Sorry” from 2011, their top notch CD from that year, and paid tribute to John Lennon by performing “Please Please Me” and “It’s Only Love.” In addition to their own material, The Smithereens have recorded three Beatles tribute albums. “This is some fun tonight,” DiNizio, always the consummate showman, mused at one point. “Blood And Roses” was once again a show-stopping number, and the band expertly worked in bits of Free’s “All Right Now” and The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes” into the final number “A Girl Like You.”
The Smithereens ended on such a high note, it might have seemed likely to the uninitiated that The Romantics would have a difficult time matching that energy level. And indeed, “When I Look In Your Eyes,” the catchy opener from The Romantics’ 1979 self-titled debut, did sound almost sedate by comparison. But there were obviously a lot of Romantics fans in the house, and the audience soon embraced the Detroit-based band. Lead vocalist-guitarist Wally Palmar, guitarist-vocalist Mike Skill, and bassist-vocalist Rich Cole have been with the band from the start, and drummer Brad Elvis, who’s also in The Handcuffs, and has played in Big Hello, The Elvis Brothers, and Screams, joined in 2004. On Friday night, The Romantics performed a number of high-speed songs, including “Tomboy,” “Tell It To Carrie,” and a cover of The Kinks’ “She Got Everything.” Toward the end of their set, they delivered a muscle-bound version of The Animals’ “We Gotta Get Out Of this Place,” and it was good to hear from the band members after the show that this cover will be included on a soon-to-be-released CD. The Romantics brought this festive night of old and new material to a crowd-pleasing finish with an energetic version of their timeless hit, “What I Like About You.” 


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