Rubinoos then and now 

The Rubinoos, persistent power popsters celebrating 40 years with a reunion gig Saturday at the Great American Music Hall, date their anniversary back to a 1970 gig at a “free school” in Berkeley.

“It was the Bay High hop,” says Tommy Dunbar, who formed the group with Jon Rubin after the pair dropped out of ninth grade, later to find the atmosphere at Bay High School (“you didn’t have to attend”) more compatible with their pastime of listening to oldies from his sister’s collection of 45s.

In the past year, The Rubinoos released two albums — “Biff-Boff-Boing” (for children) and “Automatic Toaster” — and went on a European tour, making for a particularly active period playing their funny, harmony-laden, guitar-driven rock.

But ups and downs have come in between — personnel changes, being booed for playing “Sugar, Sugar” opening for Jefferson Starship in 1974, appearing on “American Bandstand,” opening for Elvis Costello on his 1979 “Armed Forces” tour, recording the theme to the 1984 movie “Revenge of the Nerds,” and winning major UK radio airplay with the single “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend” in 1978.

That tune happened to be the subject of a 2007 plagiarism lawsuit filed against Avril Lavigne, who released a song called “Girlfriend.”

“We settled it out of court, and we’re satisfied,” Dunbar says, adding that while the incident “got a lot of press, it’s not like our audience quadrupled.”

These days, the band’s fans have a range. Locally, they’re Bay Area friends, including middle-aged parents with young kids who can’t manage a night out at a club.

But in Europe and Japan, Dunbar says, “the audience is people in their 20s who look at us like being the John Lee Hooker of power pop. They’re buying our vinyl and telling us, ‘You influenced the people we listen to.’”

Saturday’s show promises to be extra special, with its notable lineup of guitarists Dunbar and Rubin, bassist Al Chan, a 30-year alumnus and the return of drummer Donn Spindt, who appeared on the early recordings, but hasn’t played with the band in decades.

“It’s so good playing with Donn again,” Dunbar says. “After one rehearsal, it was like he never was gone. All of the fills were played exactly like on the original records.”

The show will likely have a crazy high school reunion element, and Dunbar is looking forward to seeing old friends.

But, as has been the case for years, The Rubinoos don’t have hard-core plans to continue appearing together regularly — simply because they lose money when they do.

Before the group’s last big concert date in 2008, Dunbar said they only play gigs that are “revenue neutral.”

In 2010, he amends the statement, quoting his longtime pal and bandmate: “The lowest he will play for is zero, Jon has said.”


lkatz@sfexaminer.com

IF YOU GO

The Rubinoos 40th Anniversary Show

Where: Great American Music Hall, 859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco

When: 9 p.m. Saturday

Tickets: $18

Contact: (415) 885-0750, www.gamh.com

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Leslie Katz

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