IN TUNE : Not to knock the Bongos, but Richard Barone’s set with his new live band Satuday night at Maxwell’s showed just how gifted a songwriter he is. The clearest proof was in “Numbers With Wings.” Invigorated by a crackerjack rhythm section and the dazzlingly impassioned fiddle work of Deni Bonet, Barone took “Numbers…” to a height it’s barely approached since it was first performed nearly 30 years ago.
Thanks to John Kramarz, you can feel the afterglow yourself:
Even Barone admitted the performance — at the club that essentially created the Bongos — transcended others on the recent tour, and that he was surrounded by bandmates who “are all, each, individually, the most amazing people I’ve ever worked with.”
The occasion for the show was the release of Barone’s solid solo album, “Glow,” a mini-jukebox of solid pop tunes crafted by the Tampa-born entertainer who almost single-handedly pubt Hoboken on the rock-and-roll map.
The title song of “Glow” sports a hook so sticky, I’ve found myself absently humming it (I wasn’t the only one singing along at the Maxwell’s show). “Odd Girl Out,” written with the equally talented Jill Sobule, has the same kind of staying power.
Barone and the band can flex it, too, as they did with the album’s rockingest number, “Radio Silence,” and with both “Number…” and the night’s closer, the Bow-Wow-Wow-influenced “Barbarella,” with its Bo Diddley beat.
Richard is a musicologist, same as Lloyd Cole, Robyn Hitchcock and many other tunesmiths, so it’s fun to discover what covers he’s brought along as treats. Saturday night it included the Beatles’ heartbreaking “It’s Only Love” and Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love.” It was much lighter on the 70s Bolan/Bowie/Reed glam rock that has, at times, blunted his potential impact on a wider audience these past three decades.
We live in skeptical, cynical times, but you can check both at the door whenever Barone plays live — be it in a club, at an outdoor show or in someone’s living room. When he told the Maxwell’s crowd, “I’m taking you all home with me,” you could tell he genuinely wished he could.
I don’t want to invoke the name of a deceased pop star who made the Peter Pan complex a cartoon, but few artists have maintained the earnest, childlike manner that Richard has without creeping you out.
It’s tough not to let down your guard and smile when those moments of pure joy animate his face, or when Richard pogos in the middle of a jam, as he and his band become one. It might be his sandbox, but everyone’s invited to hop in — and glow.
During a brief series of reunion shows, the Bongos included an unplugged segment that cleared the edgy, New Wave clutter from Barone’s craftmanship. Now he has a band that does justice to his talent for making magic.
Who could blame him for glowing?
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