By Chris M. Junior
The Boss was away, so other acts were able to lead the way during the centerpiece Light of Day 2016 benefit concert, held Jan. 16 at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, N.J.
With his River Tour starting in Pittsburgh, Bruce Springsteen was unable to add to his long list of unbilled performances at Light of Day, which since 2000 has raised more than $3 million to fight Parkinson’s disease and other mobility disorders. There was more than enough scheduled talent, though, to make for a worthwhile night of entertainment.
Willie Nile was his typical high-energy self, working in covers of the Lou Reed-penned Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane” and David Bowie’s “Heroes” among his original material, which included the rousing “Hell Yeah” from his forthcoming studio album.
Fellow Light of Day veterans Jesse Malin and Garland Jeffreys also performed inspired full-band sets. Malin’s “Turn Up the Mains,” from 2015’s “New York Before the War” album, was a highlight, as was Jeffreys’ “Wild in the Streets.”
Springsteen’s shadow still loomed large at Light of Day 2016: Actress-musician Jill Hennessy covered “No Surrender,” while Pittsburgh’s Joe Grushecky and the Houserockers performed “Code of Silence,” a Springsteen-Grushecky collaboration.
Headlining the show (dubbed Bob’s Birthday Bash, in honor of Light of Day founder Bob Benjamin) were New Jersey’s own Smithereens. Joined by a keyboardist and a horn section, The Smithereens were able to re-create key instrumental parts to signature songs (such as the hazy saxophone on the ballad “Especially for You”) as well as add some new twists. For the set-closing “A Girl Like You,” Reagan Richards, half of the Jersey Shore-based country duo Williams Honor, complemented Pat DiNizio’s lead vocals much like Maria Vidal did on the version that became a Top 40 pop hit for The Smithereens in 1990.
Afterward, with the clock closing in on 2 a.m., Grushecky led the large cast of musicians through Springsteen’s “Light of Day” and a Beatles-style rendition of “Twist and Shout.” Like most jams, it was haphazard, and there wasn’t enough space or microphones for everyone involved. But this concert sendoff was full of spirit and good intentions — the same as Light of Day’s efforts to find a cure for Parkinson’s.