July 4, 2012
Denver Botanic Gardens, Chatfield
By Geoff Anderson
Is there anybody that doesn’t like the B-52s? Probably, but most of those people have had a lobotomy or went to law school. Actually, I didn’t think much of the B-52s when they first hit the scene in 1979. I was in college at the time and very serious about music. I was all about progressive rock and its complexity and virtuosic playing. I had also begun listening to a lot of jazz at the time too, which of course features more complexity and virtuosity. So when the B-52s showed up with their crazy hairdos, cartoonish album covers and seemingly simplistic ditties, it was pretty obvious that this was not serious music. Not for me.
Then, I went to Scott Arbough’s annual Halloween party in Boulder in 1989. There, sometime around midnight and sandwiched between “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” by the Stones and some Stevie Ray Vaughn, “Love Shack” came on the stereo. There was no denying the pure party power of the song. And we’re not talkin’ the kind of party with conversations like these, “I have one word of advice: Plastics!” or “Scalia has clearly exceed his Constitutional authority this time!” No! We’re talkin’ a party attitude that does not include investment advice, politics or the law. “Sure! I’ll take another beer, bro!” It was a tune that demanded that you move; demanded that you dance, now! That night at Scott’s house, I finally got it.
“Love Shack” has the beat that absolutely will not let you remain seated; or even standing: Dance, indeed. The fact that a whale sized Chrysler plays a key role in “Love Shack” definitely added additional appeal because I spent my high school years driving one of those gargantuan Chryslers. “It seats about twenty/So c’mon and bring your juke box money!” Been there.
After the epiphany at Scott’s house, I went back and listened to the band a little more closely. The “Peter Gunn” guitar in “Planet Claire” certainly had appeal as did the reference in that same song to a Plymouth Satellite (another Chrysler product!). And, really, does it get any funnier than a song about a lobster?
So when I saw that the B-52s were scheduled to play at the Chatfield division of the Denver Botanic Gardens (only a couple miles from my house) on the 4th of July, it seemed like the natural thing to do (especially when the aforementioned Scott Arbough fixed me up with a couple comp tickets courtesy of KBCO (thanks Scott!)).
The front line of the band has remained more or less stable since inception with the exception of original guitarist Ricky Wilson who died in 1985 of AIDS. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson (Ricky’s brother) still sing, along with Fred Schneider. Keith Strickland, the band’s original drummer, switched to guitar after Ricky Wilson’s death. The two women have retained their vocal range with their trademark “ooos” in the extreme upper register. Their hair just isn’t quite as tall these days, however. (But whose is? Admit it.) Schneider, of course, has never really done much singing, instead making snide observations in more of a talk/rap/quasi-singing style. That shtick remained totally intact.
Actually, the show got off to a bit of a shaky start with some of the vocal harmonies slightly less than sweet. The fourth song, “Give Me Back My Man” featured mainly Wilson on vocals. She started with some sort of unintelligible monolog and she sounded a bit drunk. (Wait! This is a party band! So…..) Her vocals on the tune were pretty loose (i.e. lack of accuracy in hitting the notes she was aiming for). Shortly after that, however, she and Pierson got in sync and the vocal harmonies were right on for the most part the rest of the evening.
The biggest disappointment of the evening was the short set. At what seemed to me to be about the half-way point through the show, the band broke into “Love Shack.” That was surprising because I was sure that would be an encore tune. I was even more surprised when the band finished that tune and started saying “thank you” and “good night.” They’d been playing only about 50 minutes by that point. They came back for an encore of two more tunes, but even with the encore break the whole set was only about 70 minutes.
The other surprise was the song selection. This is a band with at least a couple dozen hits, or at least that many very well known tunes. Wednesday night we heard three songs from their 2008 album “Funplex.” Did you even know they released an album in 2008? Me either. Also in the set was “Hallucinating Pluto,” an extra song on the “Time Capsule” album, a best of collection. That’s not a bad song, but not exactly classic B-52s. Normally, throwing in a few new songs is nothing to complain about, but with a shorter than average set, the band left many great songs on the table: “Channel Z,” “Good Stuff,” Strobelight,” “Quiche Lorraine,” “Is That You Mo-Dean?,” and “Deadbeat Club” just to name a few.
When the band was playing, they succeeded in laying down the party vibe. Many of the mostly middle aged audience (and a few of their kids) danced for most of the show, and by the end, just about everybody was on their feet. The cheesy guitar riffs, Schneider’s wry observations and the distinctive female vocals were all there for an energetic, but short-lived party.
The band Squeeze opened the show. This is a group from about the same time period as the B-52s, I guess. I never paid much attention to them. I never really heard anything that grabbed me. After all, life is too short to listen to good music when there is so much great music out there. I heard a couple tunes that seemed familiar, but the big advantage of not being familiar with their music was that I was neither frustrated nor disappointed when they played their new stuff because as far as I could tell, it all sounded pretty much the same.
Party out of Bounds
Give Me Back My Man
Love in the Year 3000