When you think about it, surf rock has been retro for almost as long as swing jazz. And every year, a new generation of kids discovers the catchy, danceable, reverb-drenched sound which these days is made mostly by bands who live nowhere near the water.
One group that does live near the water, or close to it, anyway, is the Supertones. Dating back to the mid-90s, they’re one of the longest-running bands in New York. A lot of surf artists, from legends like Dick Dale to Los Straitjackets and the Coffin Daggers, bring their sensational chops and supersonic tremolo-picking to wow the crowd. The Supertones do the opposite: Bandleader and Telecaster player Tim Sullivan writes lingering, spacious themes that border on the minimalist, with a sound that looks back to the early 60s and the golden age of the Ventures and Shadows.
Everything they play sounds familiar, yet hard to place, maybe because Sullivan is awfully good at taking classic surf hits and tweaking them just enough to call them his own. The group’s late-90s residency at the old Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street is legendary. There’s been some turnover in the group over the years (the original rhythm section left and eventually became Mr. Action & the Boss Guitars), but the Supertones didn’t drown in the lockdown and have emerged with a gig at 9 PM tomorrow night, June 25 at Freddy’s. A couple of cover bands, Band of Others and then Link Wray cover crew the WrayCyclers play after; it’s a pass-the-bucket situation.
There are as many tracks on the Supertones’ Reverbnation page as Heinz has flavors. At about two minutes a clip, that’s two hours of jangle and twang. Skip the first track, Paradise Point Pt. 1 which is a red herring with that fakeout organ intro. Instead, roll with The Last Ride, a twangy Bakersfield-style tune with rolling surf drums. There’s close harmonies off a low string in Avanti, a gently twangy blend of loping desert rock and low-key Ventures in El Rollo, and Ali Baba, a very, very close cousin to Misirlou with a few goofy moments thrown in to distance it from the original.
I Surf in Black is a prime example of how the group typically do a slow, vaguely melancholy ballad. They pick up the pace in Dora Lives. a tightly galloping number, while Morbious is a reminder that cheap Casio organ tunes were not the band’s strong suit. Likewise, it’s a mystery why there’s such a sloppy version of Moon Shot here. That sets you up for three different takes of All For a Few Perfect Waves. After that, there’s still over an hour of music to keep you fresh and icy for whatever you’re doing after you get offline. If you get as far as the deliciously bittersweet Bushwacked, you will be richly rewarded.
The last time anyone from this blog was in the house at a Supertones show, it was at Otto’s – where else, right? – to kick off what turned out to be an amazing 2018 Labor Day weekend. That Friday night, the group did more slinking than pummeling through a set much like the Reverbnation page. Truth in advertising – and don’t hate on them because they use an old platform. It’s only fitting for a band that plays old music.