As unlikely as it may have seemed a decade ago, The Bongos’ discography keeps growing. The group, which helped create Hoboken’s alternative-rock scene and earned a national following in the ’80s, broke up in 1987 and has reconvened only for occasional reunion shows since then. But 2013 saw the release of a lost album from the ’80s, Phantom Train. This summer, the band reissued its 1985 Beat Hotel album with 12 previously unreleased demos. And it looks like something else may be on its way, soon.
“We’re starting to release some unreleased stuff; I think maybe one more before the end of the year,” said frontman Richard Barone Sept. 19 at an outdoor Bongos concert presented by the Outpost in the Burbs at Van Vleck House and Gardens in Montclair.
The rarity of Bongos concerts made this a real “event” for their fans — the show sold out — and you could feel the musicians’ excitement emanate from the stage, and from the band’s most extroverted member, Barone, in particular. Of course, for many people, it’s still exciting just to be able to play shows or go to shows again: This one originally had been scheduled for March 2020 but was postponed until now, and marked the Outpost’s return to in-person concerts after more than 18 months.
Special occasion or not, the four band members seemed loose and comfortable with each other onstage. Jared Michael Nickerson filled in for Rob Norris on bass, joining singer-songwriter-guitarists Barone and James Mastro, and drummer Frank Giannini. The band also welcomed Glenn Mercer of The Feelies onstage for the show’s last two songs, to add guitar and backing vocals to a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Funtime” (co-written by David Bowie) and then “Numbers With Wings” (see videos below).
T. Rex’s “Mambo Sun” (see video below) — which The Bongos memorably covered on their debut album, 1982’s Drums Along the Hudson — also made it into the set, as did Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” (see video below), which is on Phantom Train.
The show’s fourth cover was perhaps its biggest surprise: A Giannini-sung version of the British glam-rock band Slade’s 1972 single “Gudbuy T’Jane” (see video below), a major hit in Europe and Australia that didn’t make much of an impact in the United States.
Also coming as a bit of a surprise was “I’ve Got a Secret,” from the 1983 Barone/Mastro duo album, Nuts and Bolts.
Mastro sang lead on the Beat Hotel song “Splinters,” which added a touch of melancholy to a show that was mostly upbeat. Bongos lyrics are often mysterious, but the band’s music has propulsive rhythms and loads of hooks.
This show was devoted entirely to music from the ’80s — and covers of songs that made Bongos members fall in love with rock ‘n’ roll, even before that — and they were still able to project a sense of youthful buoyancy on them. That’s a pretty rare thing among bands from that era that are still around, in one form or another.
Here is the show’s setlist:
“The Beat Hotel”
“I’ve Got a Secret”
“Glow in the Dark”
“My Wildest Dreams”
“Three Wise Men”
“In the Congo”
“Funtime” (with Glenn Mercer)
“Numbers With Wings” (with Glenn Mercer)
And here are some videos from the show:
We need your help!
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $20, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJArts.net to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.