Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mister Neutron at Otto's Shrunken Head

The first "wave" of surf music originated in southern California in the early 1960s and was largely instrumental. As pioneered by Dick Dale & the Del-Tones, an electric guitar or saxophone played the melody lines. The Beach Boys then commercialized the sound by adding vocal harmonies. The British Invasion ultimately led to the demise of surf music by 1966. Unknown to most live music fans, there are presently about 60 to 70 instrumental surf revivalist bands along the eastern seaboard, and perhaps hundreds more throughout the United States and around the world. Mister Neutron is not one of them anymore, except for once a year or so, when the New Jersey-based garage, surf and instrumental trio reunites for a gig. Formed in 1998 in Jersey City, the band presently is based in Cranford. Mister Neutron is guitarist Damian Fanelli, bassist Tony Fanelli and drummer Drew Paradine. The band's third and most recent album, Nor'easter, was released in 2008.

It is refreshing to hear a band play for the love of music, with no aspiration of forging a career in the spotlight. With little fanfare, Mister Neutron came out of the proverbial woodwork tonight to play at Unsteady Freddie Salzburg's birthday party at Otto's Shrunken Head. Years ago, the band included in its set a few vocal songs, and occasionally even tried a bit of blues and rockabilly, but Mister Neutron has been a pure instrumental band for many years, including tonight. Many of the songs appeared to be originals, but the set included covers of instrumentals by the second-wave surf revivalist band Slacktone and others. Whether or not one is a devotee of this under-the-radar music scene, one could appreciate the musical skills demonstrated by Mister Neutron on Otto's small stage. The power trio glided with amazing speed and clarity. Song after song, the Fanelli brothers' fingers impressively flew all over their respective fret boards in time with Paradine's adrenalin-boosted percussive rhythms. Surf music is often conducive for dancing; the technical skill employed in Mister Neutron's music was more suited for marveling. Unfortunately, however, there does not seem to be a way to convince the band members to start-jump its trajectory and perform on a more frequent basis.

Unsteady Freddie's Surf-Rock Shindigs are held on the first Saturday of each month at Otto's Shrunken Head. Admission is always free.