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The Clarks still going strong, ready for 2,000th show

Greg Joseph thought something was different that summer night almost 25 years ago. He sensed the music he was playing with three fellow students from Indiana University of Pennsylvania was unlike any he'd made before.

"I knew it was something special that first night," Joseph says. "It wasn't like any band I'd ever been in; there was something in the back of my mind about it."

While Joseph's presentiment proved true, the bassist couldn't have expected he, singer Scott Blasey, drummer Dave Minarik and guitarist Rob James would reach a rare milestone, playing their 2,000th show Wednesday at Stage AE on the North Shore.

Wednesday is also Clarks Day in Pittsburgh, with the band being honored by Pittsburgh City Council. The group also will perform a few days later at the Winter Classic, the hockey game between the Penguins and Washington Capitals on Jan. 1.

"It's one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that popped up," Joseph says of playing at the New Year's Day event, televised nationally by NBC.

Joseph refers to these opportunities as "carrots dangling out there worth going after." But these things don't come to bands that rest on their laurels. Thus, "Songs in G," a new digital EP of six songs from the Clarks' catalog (plus a cover of Whiskeytown's "16 Days"), reconstructed the band's rock 'n' roll heart transfigured into a sound that's somewhere between Lyle Lovett and Hank Williams.

The new sound came by way of a performance with keyboardist/accordion player Skip Sanders and pedal steel player Gary W. Jacob on the WDVE-FM morning show. The band came away energized by the contributions of Sanders and Jacob, and decided to re-record songs including "Penny on the Floor" and "Shimmy Low."

Noting that Sanders and Jacob have joined the band on stage for the last year and a half, Joseph says, "we were the same four guys doing the same show doing the same song for 23 years. What we had to do was find the joy in playing and making things different. When we added those two guys, all of a sudden it was like a new beginning."

The most striking diversion is the use of Maddie Georgi, the 17-year-old singer from Hampton, on the revamped version of "Boys Lie." Joseph says the use of a female voice on the song makes it "almost a Helen Reddy anthem."

"I've always had the feeling the if you got the right female vocal behind that song, it would be totally believable and relevant," he says.

If there is a drawback to "Songs in G," it's the risk of alienating a segment of the fan base that prefers the Clarks as they were for more than two decades. Joseph acknowledges that some longtime fans might not like the new direction.

"You take that chance and hopefully people will come to appreciate it," he says. "The elements (Sanders and Jacob) add to what we're doing really enhance the songs and make them fun. When I hear them playing their parts, I have a new reason to smile on stage, even if it's just among ourselves. ... It's something we'll probably continue to do because we've found success and joy in doing that."

Additional Information:

The Clarks

When: 7 p.m Wednesday

Admission: $32.75

Where: Stage AE, North Shore

Details: 800-745-3000

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