Monday, October 01, 2007

The Bongos Reunion: Drums (and Guitars) Along the Hudson

James Mastro (left) and Richard Barone (right) of The Bongos

Back in the early '80s, Hoboken, New Jersey gave birth to a thriving alternative rock scene epitomized by The Bongos. Though lead singer and guitarist Richard Barone and guitarist James Mastro have both continued music careers since then, The Bongos have not performed more than a few shows together since they broke up 20 years ago.

They had a rousing reunion yesterday as the headliners of the Hoboken Music and Arts Festival, which also featured sets by other New Jersey artists from the same era. The Bongos' set was preceded by The Health and Happiness Show, Mastro's 1980s roots-rock ensemble; Glenn Mercer, leader of The Feelies, the much-loved and acclaimed late '70s/'early '80s band from Haledon, NJ; and Chris Stamey, former frontman for The dB's.

The Bongos sounded like they picked up right where they left off: they played a tight set of their old tunes, including most of their Drums Along the Hudson album. The reunion timing was uncanny: this summer saw the issuing of a remastered, expanded version of the CD, including live tracks from a concert in London and the first recorded Bongos show... and even a 2007 remix of the song "Bulrushes" by Moby.

Before beginning their set, The Bongos were presented with a proclamation by the mayor of Hoboken. While I couldn't hear the whole thing--I'm not sure if they proclaimed Sept 30th "Bongos Day" or something--it was great to see them getting this recognition from the city that was their home base. And judging from the amount of gray-haired folks I saw standing in the front of the audience, I'm not the only person in the crowd who remembers The Bongos from their heyday at Maxwell's more than 20 years ago.

Seeing the sets at the Festival reminded me of just how much I enjoyed these bands in the past, and still do. Creative, inventive pop with catchy hooks galore. Some music from that era sounds dated and I can't listen to it anymore. I bought the new version of "Drums Along the Hudson" at Tunes, the local record store, while walking home from the festival, and it still sounds good.

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