In 1979, Richard Barone and Frank Giannini of the Hoboken-based band The Bongos went to an Elvis Costello & the Attractions concert at The Palladium in New York. The opening act was the California-based power-pop group, The Rubinoos, who had recently had a couple of hit singles: “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” and a cover of the Tommy James & the Shondells hit, “I Think We’re Alone Now.”
“They blew us away,” remembers Barone, adding that he and other Bongos members got to know their albums very well. “We never got to play with them, (though) we wanted to.
“The Bongos were such as mix of styles, because we liked the more punky stuff — we were fans of The Ramones, who we played shows with — and we loved artists who were pushing all kinds of boundaries, with experimentation. But we also loved the harmonies and sound of power-pop. And that was embodied, for us, in The Rubinoos. We just loved them.”
The Bongos and The Rubinoos will finally get a chance to play together this month. The group — both of whom have been only sporadically active since the ’80s — will team up for shows at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park, Oct. 20; Mexicali Live in Teaneck, Oct. 21; and the Mount Tabor Tabernacle in Parsippany, Oct. 22.
The Mount Tabor show, which will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the At the Tabernacle concert series, will be headlined by The Rubinoos, and feature some acoustic material specially prepared by them to take advantage of the venue’s world-class acoustics (the Tabernacle is a wooden, octagon-shaped structure, build in 1885). The Bongos will headline in Asbury Park and Teaneck.
“For both groups, (the mini-tour) is very unusual,” says Barone. “I don’t think the Bongos have toured more than one date in one city in a row since 1986. And The Rubinoos … they do shows here and there, but I would not say that they tour regularly, either.”
Two of The Rubinoos’ co-founders, singer-guitarist Jon Rubin and guitarist Tommy Dunbar, remain in the group, along with drummer Donn Spindt, who joined in the early days, and Al Chan, their bassist since 1980. They released a new studio album last year, 45, which coincided with the 45th anniversary of the formation of the band.
The Bongos were formed in Hoboken in 1980, and were one of the flagship bands of the early days of the Hoboken alt-rock scene. They broke up in 1987 but have undertaken a variety of reunion projects over the past decade, including the release of a new album, Phantom Train (featuring previously unreleased ’80s tracks), on the Jem label in 2013.
One of the reasons The Bongos don’t perform together more frequently is geography. Frontman Barone is in Manhattan and guitarist James Mastro is still in New Jersey, but bassist Rob Norris lives in Upstate New York and drummer Giannini is in North Carolina.
“It’s not easy to get everybody together in one place,” says Barone, “but when it can happen, it’s great. The Bongos … when we get together, it always comes back. The sound is just the sound of the way we play together. There’s no other way to make it happen. We just have to do it.”
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