9/4: Themes from a Summer Place

They’ve up and CANCELLED their in-store appearance at Jack’s Music originally scheduled for today, September 4…but everyone’s favorite Red Bank-based surf combo THE BRIGANTINES have left us with a memento of a sweet VACATION, and a promise that this was More Than Just a Summer Love…

“You’ll never hear surf music again,” vowed Jimi Hendrix in a famous (and reportedly taken well out of context) quote in 1967’s “Third Stone from the Sun.”

Back in the pre-Beatloid 1960s, when Hendrix was still dressing in dinner jackets and gassin’ his hair, the thing called Surf Music — not necessarily the gleeclub harmonies of the Beach Boys and ilk, but the mostly-instro, breakneck paced, dripping-wet-with-reverb sounds that crashed in off the left-coast kulture klatches of a newly ascendant California — was the Stone Shit. The Nexus of All Musical Realities; a metaphysically musicological crossroads from which one can trace a vector to everything from Easy Listening to Speedcore to the most sand-blasted of ethereally ethnic styles. And, as left-coast lefty-lemon guitarist John McBain said, “Jazz ain’t the only American art form…the shit that bands like The Astronauts did was a musical apex for this once great nation.”

It was also something of a big tent (big beach umbrella?) that took in everything from southpaw speedfreaks to racially integrated skinhead combos. It wasn’t even mandatory to have hung out at Stub’s Pub in Hermosa Beach, either — many of the finest practitioners of the form hailed from Nashville and Boulder and Minneapolis to, eventually, Canada and Scandinavia and the former Sputnik bloc.

But while East Coast Surf — the lifestyle, sport and sound — has its share of acolytes, few if any bands sang the praises of the relatively stingy Atlantic swells to the degree that they hyped the “waves some 30 feet high” of wintertime Waimea Bay. And in Monmouth County’s fave beach-free destination town of Red Bank — where we haven’t seen surfable whitecaps on the Navesink River since the Nor’easter of December ’92 — there hasn’t been a fully functioning surfrock crew on call since the all-but forgotten Dungarees.

Until now, that is. As one of a miniscule but mesmerizing splinter-scene of young Jerseyans that include sombrero’d stompers Los Pocos Locos (Long Branch) and Bongo Surf (Jersey City), the band known as The Brigantines draws its namesake inspiration from the semi-sleepy Atlantic County beach burg, and their restless energy from their stated home base of Red Bank — a place where, right up until the time when we sat down to prepare this post, they were scheduled to make an appearance at the venerable Jack’s Music Shoppe.

That September 4 in-store postponement now finds “New Jersey’s Number One Surfing Group” hoping to “reschedule for a date in November,” but the reason that we were expected to gather there this day — The Brigantines’ recently self-released CD Vacation! — is still a force to be reckoned with, even as we count the receding taillights of the Benny hordes.

Truth to tell, the band’s “Red Bank” identifier begins and ends with multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and chief songwriter Vincent Minervino, who calls the Basie-birthing borough his home while his Brig bandmates (Bassist Aaron Leonovich, guitarist Scott Saint Hilaire, drummer Dan Tojeira) brush their teeth with the tapwaters of various North Jersey precincts. Parse things a bit more and you’ll note that the band could almost be regarded as a Short Hills Mall phenomenon, since Minervino moondogs at the 21st century surf-shack of the Apple Store (while Saint Hilaire holds court and hangs ten at the nearby Bang & Olufsen).

And as for taking their name from the former home of the late lamented Brigantine Castle? While Minervino cops to its “just sounding cool; kind of the feeling we were going for,” there’s a bit of band lore and legend that says it was the hometown of an old Summer Love fling that was, alas, built on sandcastles and frozen-custard cones. Meaning that, given such logic, the band could just as easily have been named The Keansburgs, The Succasunnas, The Relocated Bayways.

Memories of summer loves and summers past tend to play a prominent part in the worldview of The Brigantines, who’ve just come off a busy few months that saw them go anywhere/ do anything from hi-profile opening gigs for a couple of beachily bonafide music legends (Southside Johnny at the annual Stone Pony Independence Day party; King of the Surf Guitar Dick Dale at the Surf Club), to a surf-marathon matinee at the dearly departed Press Room; to a bevy of open-air gigs on Long Beach Island and the herringboned hardwoods of the Asbury boards.

It’s there, in the briny ocean breeze and smoky fallout from the adjacent beach bonfire, that Minervino and mates have found the sweetspot setting for their peculiar brand of commerce. Playing a mix of romantically inclined pop songs and digging-in instros — almost entirely original, with the occasional cover like the Phil Spector/ Crystals classic “Then (S)he Kissed Me” — The Brigs revisit the half-kept promises of “Next Summer” (“Have a drink with me before I go”), spin the true-story trans-Atlantic romance “Verity” (“We could go to Asbury, or catch a wave on Waikiki…Have another drink, tell me what you think”), relive the heartbreak at “Sunset Motel” (“She made off with my heart, my wallet, guitar and Ray-Bans”), and, just to hammer home that heartbreak, the lost-love scenario of “Ray-Bans” (“Please don’t ask me where I saw them last, I hit the wave and they were gone so fast”).

All these and more — including the wordless workshoppers “Brigantine Barrel” and “Reeferone” — can be found on Vacation! with…The Brigantines, the self-produced long player project (on the band’s Modern World imprint) for which the multi-tasking Minervino also served as recording engineer, mixologist and art director. Available online via a variety of virtual outlets — and commonly seen lying on the ground-level “merch table” at the band’s gigs — the CD’s a smoothly purveyed (with some welcome rough edges) calling card for a barely year-old band that’s really just getting started, even as the boardwalk shadows grow long, and their first warmweather season of existence recedes into the mental scrapbook of half-remembered highs, too-soon goodbyes, and other wistful Themes from a Summer Place.

The Brigantines will be back soon enough, having made an oath to keep stoking the smoldering embers of a seemingly endless SummerTwentyTwelve well into the long fall-back nights of autumn and winter. Stake yourself a scope-out perch on the band’s website for news of gigs, rumors of surf, and more.

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