February 2007 back
The Bongos w/Special Guest Rolan Bolan: Feb 17th at Joe's Pub
In 1982 a "little band that could" from Hoboken, New Jersey, released the pop/rock album, Drums Along The Hudson, that went on to become a darling of college radio and whatever progressive rock stations were still around at that time. A collection of catchy two to three minute pop tunes, it combined the hooks and harmonies of the Beatles with the driving force of the Sex Pistols which often led to comparisons with T-Rex (Bang a Gong, Jeepster.....). A cover of the T-Rex song Mambo Sun on the album also made those comparisons inevitable.
The Bongos released two more albums in the '80's before splitting amicably, at which point lead singer and songwriter Richard Barone continued to release solo albums and involve himself with countless projects in and around the NYC music scene. You've seen his name on these pages before as part of The Downtown Messiah, The Losers Lounge and The Blood On The Tracks Project, and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
Photo: Richard Barone and Rolan Bolan
The Drums Along The Hudson album is being re-mastered and released for its 25th anniversary and this show was a reunion of the original Bongos, which included Rob Norris on bass and Frank Giannini on drums, for a performance of the album in it's entirety (One funny point of the show was when a girl in the audience yelled out "What's an album?"). Of course, with several songs under two minutes and very few over three minutes, the 15 song album in it's entirety is still a short set so it was supplemented with opening act Rolan Bolan, son of Marc Bolan of T-Rex, who performed an original tune solo and a T-Rex tune with the help of the Bongos. He also joined The Bongos later for their performance of Mambo Sun. The show closed with a version of Nuts and Bolts which was a later work from Richard and James Maestro.
The songs didn't sound the slightest bit dated. The vocal harmonies mostly hit their marks and Richard's lead vocals were strong and his guitar work crisp. Maybe the re-release will get the attention that this album has always deserved.
After the set, Judy and I had a nice conversation with Richard where he told us a little of his history with the Bolan family, they go way back, which included the fact that Rolan's mother, Gloria Jones, had the first recording of Tainted Love which was a big hit for Soft Cell. Her version is available on youtube.com. He also said that he hasn't given up on the possibility of reviving The Downtown Messiah which had become a Holiday tradition for us and would make us sooo happy.
Martin Sexton: February 6th at Joe's Pub
I've told this story before, but it's a good story so I'll tell it again. Back in August of 1996, Judy and I were out to dinner with our friend Rex Fowler from Aztec Two-Step, a well traveled folk duo who've opened for Jackson Browne, Harry Chapin and Judy Collins to name a few (Their self-titled debut album is a classic). Over dinner Rex asked if we had heard of Martin Sexton who I was just becoming familiar with from hearing some things on WFUV. Rex said we should find out where he's playing, cancel any other plans and go see him right away. He added that he and Neal had recently played a folk festival and this Sexton guy got a standing ovation after his first song. Rex could hardly contain his enthusiasm and added that he'd never seen anything like it.
It turned out that Marty was playing two weeks later at The Bottom Line as part of a four act showcase where he got to do a twenty five minute set. To say we were impressed would be an understatement. Everyone at our table had the O.M.G. reaction which is what happens when you see something so extraordinary that all anyone can do is drop their jaws and say "Oh My God". In the next five years we saw Marty over twenty times including one show in New Jersey when I bought 24 tickets and invited all our friends. The things that differentiated me from "deadheads" during that period were that I didn't see Marty shows exclusive of everything else, didn't sell tie-dye t-shirts and I didn't drop acid. But I did spread the gospel according to Marty every chance I got and sold Marty t-shirts at his merchandise table at a few gigs.
The last five years I saw him much less frequently mostly because he hadn't released any new material since 2000's Wonder Bar and also because he often played larger venues like Irving Plaza which are less appealing to me. So when I heard that he had a new release coming in April and that he'd be previewing the material at Joe's Pub, I jumped on that right away. It's a good thing I did because the show sold out in ten minutes.
After seeing this set, my first thought was "Martin Sexton is back"! Not that anybody thought he was missing, but this show had a sense of excitement that comes from doing something new. The set was dominated by new material and after years of touring solo or backed by a drummer, now he's backed by a great new band which includes bass, drums and keyboards and he even brought out three backup singers for one song. The band members also contributed backing vocals throughout the night. All of that and the fact that he was playing the prestigious Joe's Pub for the first time created a palpable sense of excitement in Marty which spilled over into the performance and into the room.
The familiar material included Goin' To the Country, Diggin Me Diggin You, Black Sheep and The Way I Am. They all took on new life with the band especially Diggin Me which had a nice jazzy swing. Also familiar was his funky cover of Billy Preston's Will It Go Round In Circles, which was a big hit in the seventies.
The show opened with the new tune Thought I Knew Ya, which was melodic, catchy, up-tempo and a great way to open the show, followed by another new one called I'm Here. I liked that one too but the biggest O.M.G. moment came when he did a solo version of the bluesy There Go I which had an aura that brought Gershwin's Summertime to mind. The song appeared to be over and then the band reappeared and rocked out while Marty wailed on the distortion mic, turning a lonely prayer into a rock anthem. It brought the house down. (There Go I)
Eventualluy, he moved over to piano and practically channeled Ray Charles for the very danceable Happy and brought out the three backup singers for the gospel flavored Wild Angels (some song titles are best guesses) both of which rocked the house. Surprisingly he didn't bring the singers back out for Black Sheep but his "angels" in the audience handled the backing vocals beautifully.
This wasn't just a great show, it was a great evening. It included sitting and chatting with three personable young musicians and their wives or girlfriends, nice conversations with Rita Houston and Julianne Welby from WFUV and being warmly greeted by Marty after the set. He was very pleased that we loved the band and new material although probably not as pleased as me. Rita was amused that I was having knee surgery the next morning but didn't let that stop me from being here.
His new CD, Seeds, comes out in April and judging from this show it might be the CD that brings his career to another level. He'll also be at Nokia Theater on April 6th. If you're a reader of this web-site, why wouldn't you be there?