For a guy who’s rather successfully cultivated his own voice within an often crowded singer/songwriter wilderness — a stake that boasts a reputation as a go-to crafter of universally appealing tunes, a relaxed and unpretentious delivery, an understated (and underrated) rock guitar style, a self-effacing sense of humor, and a frankly awesome passion for pop music — Marshall Crenshaw can sure make himself at ease in another performer’s skin.
It’s a phenomenon that dates back even before the Detroit native emerged as a maker of music under his own name, when Crenshaw clocked countless performances as John Lennon in the official late-70s touring troupe of Broadway’s Beatlemania. When the producers of the Richie Valens biopic La Bamba were “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” for someone who could both act and make heartbreakingly sweet sounds as Buddy Holly, they turned to the bespectacled musicologist who had previously appeared in Francis Coppola’s film Peggy Sue Got Married. And when the surviving members of the legendary 1960s Detroit countercultural rock force MC5 assembled for a tour in 2004, Crenshaw was among the trusted peers who ably stepped up and kicked out the jams, on behalf of the departed Rob Tyner and Fred “Sonic” Smith.
Of course, for more than a quarter of a century Shore audiences had embraced Crenshaw as a frequent visitor to venues that ranged from Clarence Clemons’s Big Man’s West, to Monmouth University, the House of Independents, and even a neighborhood church in Atlantic Highlands. Crenshaw returned the love in kind; penning a tune called “Bruce Is King” (retooled as “Blues Is King”), recording his La Bamba contribution at Shorefire Studio in Long Branch, and releasing a live album of a 2001 Stone Pony gig under the title I’ve Suffered For My Art…Now It’s Your Turn.
That special bond with musical fans of all things Jersey attained a new level in the latter half of 2018, when the surviving Smithereens called on Crenshaw to take over lead vocals and guitar in honor and memory of the band’s longtime frontman Pat DiNizio, the hitmaking songsmith (and onetime city councilman in Scotch Plains) who performed one of his final shows at Asbury Park’s Wonder Bar — and who, as an honorary icon of the city’s scene, was included among the most recent inductees to the Asbury Angels memorial hall of fame.
Making an acclaimed appearance at last summer’s Hoboken Arts & Music Festival — and taking their act out to California for a leg of shows in early February — Crenshaw and the Smithereens created something that they’ll be revisiting regionally on May 25, when they reconvene for a show at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia. But when Marshall Crenshaw takes the Wonder Bar stage this Saturday, March 2, he’ll be once again focusing upon his own prodigious catalog of compositions — the kind of track record (“Someday Someway,” “Whenever You’re On My Mind,” “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time,” the Gin Blossoms’ “Til I Hear It From You”) that most singer-songwriters would give the right side of their brain to be able to claim.
Curiously, this will mark the very first matchup of Crenshaw with Lance and Debbie’s Circuit landmark, even as it places him in comfortable company — longtime backing combo The Bottle Rockets. Continue reading