The Smithereens pull some new strings for show at Towson Center @


If you were to have your picture taken with Bruce Springsteen, it would be easy to make the world believe you were best friends.

For The Smithereens, who have also toiled in the bars on the New Jersey shoreline, the hometown connection was almost too simple.

None of the members in the band even know Springsteen that well. But there it was in Rolling Stone -- a picture of the band and Springsteen.

"It's funny, because Luther Vandross, Motley Crue, Alannah Myles and Richie Sambora were all doing work at that studio at the same time," said singer Pat DiNizio, whose band will perform at the Towson Center tonight. "I just ran into Bruce in the lounge and asked him if he'd take a shot with us and he said 'Yes.'

"We are in show business, aren't we?" DiNizio said with a chuckle.

It has taken almost 10 years, but The Smithereens are no longer New Jersey's "other" upstart act.

One week into a tour supporting their fourth album, "Blow Up," The Smithereens are also no longer just a well-kept secret for the college and alternative music set.

"Blow Up" marks a new direction for the guitar-laden quartet that crunched rock radio with "Blood and Roses," "Behind the Wall of Sleep" and "A Girl Like You."

On "Blow Up," DiNizio, guitarist Jim Babjak, bassist Mike Mesaros and drummer Dennis Diken gave the work an easier touch, bringing in a string section for several songs and collaborating with writers Diane Warren and Julian Lennon for a pair of songs. Even Babjak's 5-year-old son, Max, sings a few lines in a song.

For DiNizio, who likens the pains of songwriting to root canals, this effort gave him inspiration to experiment with The Smithereens' patented retro-1960s guitar rock sound.

"It's challenging constantly reinventing yourself musically and starting from scratch with each album," DiNizio said. The other members "were perhaps baffled initially by the demos I was sending them when I was writing. The strings were done on a keyboard, but it did make sense in the context of the song. When we got together we liked it and we thought we owed it to ourselves to give it a try."

The results are immediately evident on "Too Much Passion" and "Anywhere You Are," a jazz number with a bossa nova/samba feel.

But for The Smithereens' purists, there are some heavier sounds to be found in "Top of the Pops," "Tell Me Where Did Things Go So Wrong" and "Girl in Room 12." And for the live audience, The Smithereens have rearranged the songs, dropping the strings for the crunch.

"We're still essentially a guitar band," DiNizio said. "There's tons of

guitar all over the place on the album."

Tonight's Smithereens concert, a cystic fibrosis benefit, starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15.50 and $16.50 and are available by calling 830-2244.

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