February 12, 2015 The B-52s groovier than ever The Space at Westbury, NY 1-30-15
Despite not releasing a studio album since 2008’s Funplex, The B-52s continue to tour extensively and spread cheer to fans of all ages. Begun nearly four decades ago in Athens, Georgia, the band has consistently turned out groovy, danceable, eccentric tunes since their 1979 self-titled debut album. Coming at the height of the Post-Punk/New Wave boom, The B-52s stood alone in the landscape of unique bands with a distinctive way that no one could match. Concealing being ill from fellow bandmates for the sake of not causing a distraction, tragically, founding member and guitarist Ricky Wilson passed away in 1985 at thirty-two years of age. Clearly struck by the loss, sister Cindy Wilson (vocals/bongos) along with Fred Schneider (vocals), Keith Strickland (guitar), and Kate Pierson (vocals) took a hiatus, raising the question if this was the end of The B-52s. Regrouping a few years later, the band went on to release the 1989 multi-platinum smash album Cosmic Thing, and have been thrilling audiences non-stop ever since. Now in 2015, they hit the road in the frigged days of winter to warm up audiences around the USA. On Friday, January 30th, the rolled into The Space at Westbury, NY ready to help Long Islanders thaw from the deep freeze for a night of musical fun.
Opening act, Long Island’s Strange But Surf made it no mystery where they got their name. Featuring dual guitars, bass, and drums, the band paid tribute to surf greats Dick Dale, Jan and Dean, The Ventures, and of course The Beach Boys. Originals “The Martians Are Pissed,” “Hey Ho,” and “The Sky’s The Limit” were perfectly executed in the style of the masters. Drummer Barry Simon and bassist Joel Levine kept the pocket tight while guitarists Greg Timm and Angelo Liguori shredded away with expert interplay, swapping lead and rhythm duties throughout the set. Among the to be expected covers of Surf Rock stalwarts, the band stretched out on a unique instrumental cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” to close the show. Be sure to check out their website for other upcoming gigs in and around New York City.
After a brief intermission, the time was approaching for the main attraction of the evening. Introduced by former WLIR and current SiriusXM First Wave host, Larry the Duck, as “The World’s Party Band,” the crowd was buzzing with anticipation as Schneider, Strickland, Wilson and Kate Pierson were joined by touring members Tracy Wormworth (bass), Paul Gordon (keys), and Sterling Campbell (drums), taking to the stage. Kicking off the show with the rousing “Pump” from Funplex, the band whipped the crowd into a frenzy with the songs relentless beat, slinky guitars, and anthematic chorus. This led right into the funky “Mesopotamia” with its plodding beat, inane lyrics, and Schneider and Pierson singing different verses simultaneously for a different, fun take on the ancient art of harmonies.
Having everyone smiling and dancing, 1979’s “Private Idaho” was next with a funky bass lead and “Hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo hoo” opening howl, B Horror movie keys, and a menacing lead vocal by Schneider. This was the perfect blend of the band’s signature blend of camp and kitsch with pop sensibilities. They then went back to their debut for the Punk/New Wave sound of “Lava.” Featuring a riff unusually heavy, and at a slower pace than the norm allowed the crowd to take a break from the dancing and casually bop their heads along as Schneider, Pierson, and Wilson showed off their vocal range and distinctive interplay. As they kept the smiles coming, “Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland” put an instant stop to the head-nodding with its swirling synth beats, pounding bass, and powerful singing by Wilson as she hit all the high notes expertly. The band’s other chart topper from Cosmic Thing, “Roam,” exalted a roar from the crowd as Wilson and Pierson sang the opening A Capella part leading up to the Pop perfect music that Pierson would sing over with unstoppable purpose. Here, the band’s early influences of The Beatles, ’60s Garage Rock, the late-’70s NY scene, and great harmonizers like The Mamas and The Papas, and The Everly Brothers were on full display. Sounding tight and most of all energized, they paid homage to the past flawlessly.
Later on, “Party Out of Bounds” gave The B-52s another chance to showcase the dynamic singing of all three vocalists along with the relentless pursuit of a good time. Their unyielding momentum and ability to provide the impetus for the crowd to move their feet was simply remarkable. “Love In The Year 3000” continued the party theme with a bouncy soundtrack, handclaps, and Schneider sounding like a droid itching to break out and dance as he droned, “Take off your helmet you spacy thing/In freefall we’ll shimmer and shine/You got me spinning like Saturn’s rings/it’s a galactic love in future times.” “Is That You Modean” and “Planet Claire” were the ideal followers to “Love in the Year 3000” as Schneider and Pierson sang about being abducted by a UFO and an alien planet, respectively. This type of quirky theatrical was not lost on the audience, and in fact, everyone adored it. “Planet Claire” featured music seemingly ripped from a bad 1950’s Science Fiction movie, and it was an absolutely perfectly icing on the three song cake displaying the band’s propensity for, no matter what, letting a loose, care-free, exuberant take on the music to be paramount to typical song structure, technical playing, and overused subject matter.
Having everyone cheering loudly, “Whammy Kiss” and 1989’s ubiquitous number one “Love Shack” closed out the set. “Whammy Kiss”, another danceable, synth heavy tune from 1983’s Whammy album epitomized the band’s early sound as it would not be out of place on the best New Wave and Dance Rock of the early ’80s. Putting their stamp on it, the song was filled with strange musical effects, echoed vocals, and “dueling” vocals. Then, the aforementioned “Love Shack” was all that the crowd could have hoped for and more. The floor was flooded with folks moving feverishly as they sang along. In an excellent, daring move, the band extended the track with a long guitar/keyboard jam in the middle section. Clocking in at almost four minutes longer than the studio version, the band showed that besides inciting a dance riot, they had chops too. A brief exit from the stage was followed by a one song encore with none other than “Rock Lobster.” Perhaps their most adored hit by fans, again the band turned the studio version on its ear by slowing the track down significantly and incorporating a long jam in the middle.
The B-52s have been on the road for over forty years as a unit, and their countless shows have allowed them to hone their craft to perfection. While many bands that have been at it for this long lose a step, a voice, or worse, an audience, The B-52s continue to play in front of packed houses, while putting forth the energy and creativity of a band in its infancy. Inevitably, they give people what they want, and that is to party.