Richard Barone - lead vocals, guitar; James Mastro - vocals, guitar; Rob Norris - bass; Frank Giannini - drums, vocals
The Bongos grew to national prominence from the small, smoky clubs of Hoboken, NJ. Originally working as a trio under the direction of singer/songwriter Richard Barone, they became a quartet when James Mastro joined in early 1983. The group released one album, a collection of UK singles, on the indie PVC label before getting signed by RCA in 1983. Their RCA debut was a five song EP entitled Numbers With Wings, though in 1985 they would release a full disc entitled Beat Hotel. This show, recorded for a receptive college audience at Columbia University, delivers the Bongos in their heyday. They developed a fiercely loyal cult following, which was faithful to the band until they split up.
With influences ranging from The Byrds, T. Rex, The Beatles and numerous '60s garage bands, to the alternative style of the Talking Heads and David Bowie, the Bongos had a wealth of catchy power-pop songs that were in some cases as good as their contemporaries Squeeze and Split Enz. With the support of MTV and college radio stations - the fledgling alternative market that they and a handful of other groups such as R.E.M. had created - the group had a long, successful run together that lasted nearly seven years.
This show was recorded in between the 1983 EP Numbers With Wings, and the full length album, released two years later. That, and their previously released records, proved they were moving in the right direction, and today a band like the Bongos would likely be a massive success. Indeed, in 2007, many bands and artists have claimed the Bongos as influences.
Material like "Glow In The Dark," "Tiger Nights," "The Bulrushes" and "Automatic Doors" shows the enormous potential of Barone as a pop song writer. They are characteristically simple songs but some tunes like "Numbers With Wings," "Three Wise Men" and "In The Congo," are considerably more developed, in terms of arrangement. Barone's skills are further showcased on his subsequent solo albums, of which a new one, produced by Tony Visconti, is due in late 2007, along with his first book, FRONTMAN: Surviving the Rock Star Myth.
Also in 2007, Cooking Vinyl Records is set to re-issue the Bongos' debut album, Drums Along The Hudson, as a special edition, with bonus material and a new track of the reunited original trio, produced by and featuring the group's longtime fan, Moby.