Mike Smith Tribute at BB King’s

Midtown Manhattan, Times Square. BB King’s on 42nd Street at about 10:10pm. A musical treat was in store: two sixties revival shows featuring several bands were scheduled for the evening. The occasion, a benefit concert for injured Dave Clark Five singer, Mike Smith. The line was already soberingly long and we knew there was no chance of getting the desirable first-come first-served seats once inside. But just getting inside was the major problem, we soon would learn.

The early show slated for 7pm began very late. The main act, Britain’s Zombies were stuck in Toronto where a plane arriving from Paris had been struck by lightning on the runway. The airport was essentially shut down. Paul Schaffer, music director of the evening called David Letterman who arranged for the eager Zombies to be driven one hour north to Hamilton, Ontario and where they would charter Letterman’s plane to Teterboro, New Jersey. Once arrived, they performed a shortened set to end the first show which also featured Donald Fagen and Max Weinberg as surprise additions to the finale.

Two and a half hours standing on line in the sticky heat (still, far preferable to a cold night in February). Count among us the mostly middle-aged folk having to rough it out together in the thick of Times Square while custom hot rods, modified ten-pedaled circular bikes, tour buses, and puzzled tourists were whizzing all around.

An unfortunate teenager from Stockton, California named Andrew was begging his parents to ditch the line and escape as early as 10:20pm. We wouldn’t have any of it and cajoled him to hang in there while we amused ourselves with stories of how our own parents subjected us to their music during our teenage years. “At least your parents are into to some good stuff,” we reassured.

By a quarter past midnight, packets of first-show goers strode by pleased and assuring it would be worth the wait. Once inside at 12:45am, the three of us (myself, Ron Resnick, and Bruce Gallipani) found a decent spot along an outside wall stage left. The Fab Faux, recently proclaimed by Rolling Stone as the greatest tribute band in the world, opened the show with the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Guitarist Jimmy Vivino’s amp was blown, effectively muting his guitar solo. He was quickly redeemed with a fine solo in “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The Fab Faux also covered “Penny Lane,” “I am The Walrus,” “All You Need is Love,” and the Dave Clark Five hit, “Catch Us if You Can.”

The night was marked with stellar performances by sixties pop stars Billy J. Kramer, Peter & Gordon, and Denny Laine (“Go Now”), all backed by Paul Schaffer’s band. But the unexpected musical delight was the performance by The Zombies. I had no idea to expect such a powerful live performance. They played their three big late-sxities hits, “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season.” Sixty-year old lead singer Colin Blunstone’s vocals had a cherubic quality, beautifully intoned and delivered. Keyboardist Rod Argent showed his progressive roots with the rock anthem “Hold Your Head Up.”

The finale featured a return of the entire cast for a powerful rendition of the DC5’s “Bits and Pieces” which capped a three-hour show. Leaving a concert at 4:30 in the morning…that was certainly a first.

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