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Rock and Roll from a Fat Man

I had recently read the passage in Keith Richards’s biography where he confesses that the band needed to keep Ian Stewart in the wings simply because he didn’t look the part.

What does this have to do with the Smithereens show I saw Saturday night at the State Theatre in Falls Church, VA? Well, this: Pat DiNizio, the band’s once-svelte Jersey beatnik of a frontman, has ballooned to something along the lines of 350 pounds. DiNizio emerged on stage in an enormous black T-shirt, what looked like black sweatpants and a beanie cap, his Strat looking about the size of a Guitar Hero controller as it hung around his body.

Which kept me returning to the question: How important is physical attractiveness to rock and roll success? Well, very. If you don’t want to sleep with the person on stage, you want to be the person on stage.

If the Smithereens were trying to break now, forget it. Fortunately, their salad days are long since passed (yes, in more ways than one). Which explains the near sellout crowd, which seemed utterly forgiving of DiNizio’s waist size.

This band has always been something akin to New Jersey’s answer to REM–not as prolific, certainly, but a lot of that same post-punk songwriting ethos with a lot of garage sensibilities thrown in. Like REM, they were playing straight-ahead rock in the mid- to late 80s, when rock of the non-hyphenated variety wasn’t very much in vogue. And it was their hits from that period, of course, that got the biggest reception: “Behind the Wall of Sleep,” “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory,” “A Girl LikeĀ  You.” Well, that and their mini-set of Who covers, including “Underture,” “Acid Queen” and “I’m Free.” (They released a Tommy cover album a couple years ago, although with an album coming out shortly, it seems they’re back to original ideas.)

It was the kind of heavy, crunchy, Marshall-amplified hard rock of which there should be more of right now, even if it’s by a fat guy and a bunch of 50-year-olds.

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