Andy Polaris reviews The B-52s
at Sunday’s Eventim Apollo concert
The B-52s have been entertaining audiences for decades with their fizzy brand of American pop that showcases the delights of drive-in B-movie pop culture from the Shangri las to Star Trek mostly with an uptempo catchy chorus and the emphasis on fun. Their post-punk attitude shared the aesthetic of John Waters movies and Divine’s style. Before I even knew what they looked like the infectious Rock Lobster was bursting out of the radio on the BBC’s legendary and eclectic John Peel show and I tracked down the independent single within days. I regretfully missed their debut UK live performance at the Electric Ballroom sweat-box due to illness and have been seemingly jinxed in catching them live ever since.
That was rectified on Sunday as they staged their 40th Anniversary World Tour at London’s Eventim Apollo (I still prefer Hammersmith Odeon and nearly everyone I know still uses that iconic name). Not seeing them live has not diminished my fandom in having nearly all their seven albums and the glory of YouTube capturing some tremendous clips spanning their lengthy career from the creative hub of Athens Georgia to this 43-date global tour.
An impatient audience of 40-somethings came decked out in vintage rockabilly style with Hawaiian shirts, Levis, swing dresses, floral prints and coiffured hair and awaited the band’s arrival in the rather resplendent refurbished interiors of a venue thankfully saved from gentrification bulldozers. The stage was dominated by the image of a beautifully large beehived bejewelled skull with the band’s name above and the slogan “Born To Party” below, destined to be a stan’s next tattoo yet surprisingly not emblazoned on any merch. A short film of edited clips flashed through the band’s history finishing with a flag swooping in with Let Your Freak Flag Fly, a tacit nod to their LGBTQ fanbase. Later in the set, Kate who recently married her wife, wished us a happy Pride as this weekend the Stonewall riots were 50 years old and Stateside mounted its most acknowledged Pride parades in ages.
The band appeared to roars of approval with Cindy Wilson in skin-tight ensemble that was almost Ziggy Stardust, Fred Schneider in a candy-striped shirt, and Kate Pierson in a sequinned pride rainbow dress with voluminous sleeves. Both of our ladies’ hair was of course on point and style has always been a crucial part of the band’s appeal to the demi-monde. In fact the original vocal line-up remind me of the charming show Bewitched with Cindy (Samantha), Fred (Darrin) and Kate (Endora), a stylish and witty group who captured the zeitgeist and you would definitely want as friends. They were joined by the band who included founding member Keith Strickland along with Tracey Werwath, Paul Gordon and Sterling Campbell (the latter a powerhouse session drummer who toured with David Bowie).
They launched into a set of their jukebox-flavoured hits starting with driving Private Idaho from Wild Planet. Mesopotamia (from an EP produced by David Byrne) slowed down the momentum and one of the band’s strongest songs Give Me Back My Man was on lower wattage as Cindy appeared to have some problems singing in a low register and almost breathy. Lava, Channel Z (their environmental song ) and Funplex (a shopping mall from hell) followed. The party really kicked in with the gangster women escapades of Legal Tender , a song from Whammy that should have been huge a Thelma and Louise money-laundering duet.
We’re in the basement
Learning to print, all of it’s hot!!
10, 20, 30 million dollars ready to be spent
We’re stacking it up against the wall
52 Girls is a rallying call and along with hit single Roam showcases the real girl power of Cindy (recovered from that initial worry) and Kate’s blended voice which is unique and puts them in that pantheon of American female post-punk icons (Patti, Debbie, Joan Jett) who influenced and inspired a generation that followed. The songs that established them as college radio favourites, cult festival darlings and THE party band – Party Out of Bounds, Dance This Mess Around, Cosmic Thing – blew wide open with global hit Love Shack, their first foray into the Billboard Top 40. The heavily rotated video featured as yet little-known RuPaul in a cameo (he spent part of his youth in Athens Georgia. He recently had the band guest on his influential Drag Race award-winning reality TV show. As kindred spirits, I’m surprised that they never appeared at Wigstock which preceded it and now featured in the HBO documentary Wig. They even have a song called Wigs On Fire unfortunately not played tonight).
The audience were on their feet with some dad dancing on prominent display as The B-52s closed the set with vivacious crowd-pleasers Planet Claire – truly one of the best pop singles ever – along with debut single Rock Lobster with 6060-842 sandwiched in between. I might have been late getting to the prom but I definitely saw the legendary band that got the party started.
40th Anniversary World Tour set list
Give Me Back My Man
Party Out of Bounds
Dance This Mess Around
Encore Planet Claire
The B-52s play at Theatre Royal Nottingham 2 July, Manchester O2 Apollo 3 July, then Paris 5 July and Argeles-sur-mer 7 July. A book and an authorised documentary about the band are promised for next year