With some of the catchiest melodies around, a bouncy stage show and four youthful and appealing faces, the Bongos would seem to be the kind of pop quartet a generation of teen-agers could fall in love with.
But what made the Bongos' show at the 9:30 club so thrilling is that this New Jersey band, for all its kinetic dance rhythms and concise pop strategies, can't be dismissed as simply a smart power-pop group. Lead singer Richard Barone's songs possess enough surreal images and somewhat threatening ambiguity to suggest that behind his seeming innocent optimism he is hardly content with life. Just when a listener could get lost in the joyful, sing-along quality of the Bongos' best rockers like "Glow in the Dark" or "Video Eyes," the rhythm section turned propulsively nervous and Barone wrenched out a soaring psychedelic guitar solo that finished in a flurry of electronic dissonance.
The fact is the Bongos were full of tightly controlled musical and lyrical eccentricities. The result on some of the band's most beautiful songs, like "The Bullrushes," is that this glorious Beatle-style number became contemporary, gaining touches of irony and mystery. At the end, Barone, who played every guitar solo while jumping up and down, led the band into the powerful rhythmic surge of "In the Congo." The crowd, now under the tribal spell, began to dance like Barone, up and down, up and down