“Who is Darlise?”
“Why does he want want her teeth??”
“How is love a new fad in the 90's???”
These are the questions ringing through my 12 year-old mind while listening to the single 'Suddenly' by this new band called The Bogmen. I didn’t know if I was listening to alternative rock or soul music but I knew they were singing about love, jealousy, and loneliness during a time that I was learning about each of these things. I had to find out more and went on one of my CD shopping binges to pick up their debut album, Life Begins at 40 Million [produced by Jerry Harrison from Talking Heads]. From the Middle Eastern melodies and tribal beats driving the disc’s opening track, 'The Big Burn,' to the closing chant of elevation which concludes 'Englewood,' the album captivated me on so many levels.
I’ll never forget my father walking into our apartment announcing that we would be going to the Kensico Dam in Valhalla, NY. Our favorite station at the time, X107, was sponsoring a free outdoor concert showcasing The Bogmen. This would be my first concert in a pivotal year in which I learned the guitar and would become entranced by live music.
The only way to release the excitement of my first live concert experience (of my own free will) was to rollerblade as many laps as my legs would tolerate around the dam’s perimeter. Finally, it’s show time and the band comes out to deliver a performance that would change my life forever. Pouring into the air were the melodies that had been previously confined to my bedroom and Discman headphones. The energy, camaraderie and originality of The Bogmen compelled me that afternoon, and has stayed with me ever since.
Twenty-one years, hundreds of shows and thousands of albums later, I still come back to this pivotal moment in my life every time The Bogmen play. Despite being drenched by the rain in Central Park or being drenched by some fool’s drink at the Bowery Ballroom, The Bogmen continue to captivate me with their musicality, humor, and distinct personalities. It has been an honor to watch this band grow and hearing so many brilliant songs develop in Vic Thrill’s (Billy Campion’s solo project) residency at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn (most Saturdays at 6:30 pm).
My most recent experience with The Bogmen was another Bowery Ballroom excursion on Cinco de Mayo, 2016. Never to miss an opportunity to submerge themselves into the festivities, the band was decked out in full celebratory gear. Billy Campion continued his legacy as a passionate and fearless frontman who would deliver the same artistry to an audience of 5 as he would to an audience of 500. He extended his vocal range to unlimited heights throughout the night. Additionally, he became a work of visual art throughout the night from costume changes to an impromptu makeover aided by the lipstick of an inebriated attendee. As he bellowed, “When I like a color, I LIKE A COLOR!” Sharing the spotlight for lead vocals on a set of brilliant performances was P.J. O’ Conor with a touching tribute to the recently departed Prince and a spectacular new original by Billy Ryan entitled 'Trumpets and Trombones.' Driving the band forward was the dynamic rhythm section of Mark Wike on bass and Clive Tucker on drums. Rounding out the unit was a fantastic horn section with distinct arrangements masterfully assembled by keyboardist (and trumpeter, and accordionist) Brendan Ryan.
After attending numerous Vic Thrill performances, I began to know Billy Campion on a more personal level and appreciate his charm and humor as much off stage as I do on stage. His solo piece, 'I am Raincloud' has become a musical anthem in my life and his unpredictability and unmistakable humor continues to keep me on the edge of my seat. Getting to know Billy and his work has become a life changing experience for me. His manic dances, false starts, and tech malfunctions just add to the charm of what a genuine gem he is to the creative world. As he says, he is completely “unembarrassable”.
It is miraculous to see the band in its original lineup, delivering career -spanning material and developing new ideas for what they hint could be future recordings. In the midst of a 90’s rock revival, there is no telling what new heights the band will reach. The Bogmen indulge in nostalgia without ever having to rely on it and their fans would expect nothing less. Here’s to another brilliant 40 million years!
Words by Charlie Schiller
Photographs by Matt Licari