It was December of 1963. President John F. Kennedy had just been assassinated and the country was reeling. Pat DiNizio was in the third grade living in Scotch Plains, N.J. His best friend was a red transistor radio that went everywhere with him.
As he listened to the radio one morning, the DJ introduced a new song, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” by a British band called The Beatles.
“From the very first chorus, I was transformed,” DiNizio said. “The sound of that record compared to everything else was like Martians had landed on Earth and had long hair and guitars.”
This is the moment DiNizio remembers falling in love with The Beatles.
Fifty years later, DiNizio is the lead singer/songwriter of The Smithereens, who recently released “The Smithereens Play The Beatles Washington, D.C. February 11, 1964 Concert.” The band will be selling the album Saturday night at the State Theatre during their “An Evening with the Smithereens” performance.
“This is our 15th consecutive year performing there,” DiNizio said. “It’s not just the Falls Church area, but it is our de facto Washington, D.C. show.”
The Smithereens made their debut in 1980. DiNizio was 31.
“It was better for us that we made it later in life,” DiNizio said. “ ... A lot of bands got deals at 20 and 21. You’re not really paying your dues when you’re [that age].”
The Smithereens have enjoyed a successful career, releasing 10 studio albums and touring the country, most recently with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers in June 2013.
“We still have to pinch ourselves to believe we’re still here and making this music after 34 years,” DiNizio said. “We never expected to sell more then 3,500 records. That was the goal of every indie band back then. We sold millions of records; it’s kind of crazy. Who would have thought?”
The latest record is a re-creation of the very first concert The Beatles ever played in the U.S., a show in February 1964 at The Coliseum in D.C.
“A beloved president had been assassinated in November and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ debuted a month later,” DiNizio said. “Everyone was really depressed and The Beatles couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
DiNizio and The Smithereens latest album pays tribute to the iconic band with a replication of that 1964 show.
“We felt we had to say something,” DiNizio said. “It was a profound influence on all of us in the generation. It made so many of us want to pick up guitars and play music.”
The Smithereens rented out a recording studio, packed it with friends and family and played the exact same set The Beatles did in February 1964.
Though DiNizio said the band wanted to pay tribute to The Beatles, they also wanted to make sure they put their own Smithereens twist on the record.
“We did it with our own vocal style but we played true to the notes,” DiNizio said. “It’s The Smithereens doing The Beatles but not in a ‘Beatle Mania’ way.”
Over the course of their 34-year career, remaining true to themselves has been a priority for the Smithereens. It’s why Saturday night’s set will feature two hours of Smithereens material as it was originally recorded.
“I’ve gone out to see my rock ‘n’ roll heroes, who are not young, play songs and I got a lot less than what I expected,” DiNizio said. “We play the songs as written and recorded. You’re lucky enough to have a song become a hit in the first place and [artists] get bored with it ... don’t turn a rock ‘n’ roll song into a Reggae song because you’re bored with it.”
The Smithereens will play a selection of songs from the catalog of their last 34 years of music. DiNizio said the band owes its success to loyal fans who have continued to come out year after year.
“Just the fact that we’re still doing it, the miracle that people keep showing up, that’s enough to keep doing it,” he said.
The Smithereens always ask fans to request songs for upcoming shows through the various social media sites.
Ultimately, said DiNizio, the Smithereens want to do for their audiences what The Beatles did for them years ago.
“We want to give them hope in music and rock ‘n’ roll,” DiNizio said. “We want everyone to feel like a teenager again.”