10,000 Maniacs in La Jolla

The band (whose name launched a thousand clever article titles) made its way across country from Jamestown NY to La Jolla, to cap the season of the Green Flash Concert Series at Scripps Birch Aquarium.

San Diego is blessed with a handful of great outdoor venues, and the Green Flash gigs leverage one of the best. Overlooking the surf high above La Jolla, the concerts are timed for sunset, and folks invariably argue about whether they see the eponymous flash.

With a breezy setlist that was sprinkled with three choice covers, 10,000 Maniacs showed why they remain a solid concert draw after 35 years. From humble beginnings (at Scripps they name checked their WNY college Fredonia, recognized by a few of us), the band eventually logged eight songs on the Billboard charts. Their best originals (“Like the Weather” and “These Are Days”) evoked hearty singalongs as the sun was setting. But it was “More Than This” (originally by Roxy Music) and “Because the Night” (Bruce Springsteen by way of Patti Smith) that evoked much appreciation in concert.

The band first rose to prominence in 1987 with a cover of “Peace Train,” but prematurely removed it from future pressings (and set lists) when they were under the misapprehension that Stevens (a/k/a Yusuf Islam) supported a fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

The band had its biggest success in the late 80s, when Natalie Merchant was the lead vocalist. But current singer Mary Ramsey has been in that role the longest, and while less emotive than Merchant does a fine job with the band’s songbook.

The band’s third great cover of the evening at Scripps was “Just Like Heaven,” first made famous by The Cure.

Credit permanent members Dennis Drew (keyboards) and Steve Gustafson (bass) with maintaining the band’s sound. Drummer Augustyniak was there almost from the band’s first gig near Buffalo, and he had a gripping tightrope moment the other night when he brought the band to a whisper and then back up to full throttle.

Locals are already awaiting word on next season’s Green Flash lineup.

(color images courtesy of Birch Aquarium)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.