You know how life goes: first you knock the Beatles off the top of the charts, then you wind up playing for half a house at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. History may not remember Mike Smith as a major figure in pop music, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t one. As the voice of the Dave Clark Five (Clark was the drummer), Smith fronted the first band to give the Beatles any serious competition, beating the Stones by a few months. During the first wave of the British Invasion, the Beatles were the nice pop guys and the DC5 were the punks, with the screaming vocals, raucous Farfisa organ, and wailing sax.
Smith was the second major British Invasion figure to hit town in the past couple of weeks — Animals guitarist Hilton Valentine had sat in with Downbeat 5 during their CD-release party at the Abbey. But it was a far different audience that came to Smith’s show a week ago Wednesday: few punks, just a couple of musicians, and a lot of gray ponytailed types clutching their old vinyl for autographs. Local beat combo Muck & the Mires failed to get a rise out of this crowd, and that was a damn shame: their brand of ’60s-styled Britpop is so spirited and true to form that most of Evan Shore’s songs sound like long-lost covers.
Smith’s own set felt like an odd time warp at first. Still looking recognizable from his old photos, he sat down at the keyboard and led his band the Rock Engine through a stack of tired covers, including the most tired song ever written, Bob Seger’s " Old Time Rock & Roll. " Turns out he was only biding his time: after 20-odd minutes came the first DC5 tune, " Can’t You See That She’s Mine, " and it just kept getting better after that, as he mixed a dozen more DC5 nuggets in with a few new songs and a surprise cover of Springsteen’s " Hungry Heart " (played in advance of a guest appearance that Little Steven Van Zandt made the following night at Smith’s NYC show).
Regardless of Smith’s place in rock history, he’s a fantastic singer. In fact, his voice remains so deep and gritty, you had to wonder why he’s been hiding out for all these years when he could easily have worked with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in the ’70s and courted the same Brit-soul crowd that still buy Joe Cocker and Steve Winwood albums. His versions of lost DC5 classics like " Glad All Over, " the proto-punk " Anyway You Want It " (which the Ramones and Kiss covered), and the psychedelicized " Try Too Hard " sounded so good, he should be able to make a living as the Dave Clark One.