Opening for the B-52s (or B52s or B52's depending on who you listen to) were The Members - you know? The band that did 'Sound of the Suburbs'? In 1979? It got to number 12 in the charts? Anyway...they played for about half an hour, six songs, saving their big hit till last. One particular highlight was hearing their debut single 'Solitary Confinement' about halfway through the set after which the audience were informed that original punk Rat Scabies was on drums. Those old or informed enough to recognise the name found the news amazing but there were quite a few nonplussed reactions - Either way, learning this fact seemed to make the crowd a lot more receptive to the music and were warmed up and singing along by the time the band finished with ...Suburbs. It's safe to say that they certainly had their dampened spirits raised (and that I should probably stop using naff clichés.)
Hailing from Athens, Georgia and formed in 1976, the B-52s were around at the start of punk and released their first single at around the same time as New Wave started to kick off. Whilst classed as new wave, their sound draws on so many different that it's difficult to categorise them - there's the surf guitars, the camp talk-singing, the girl/guy vocal sparring etc - but either way they're perhaps best known for their single 'Love Shack', which took them from a relatively underground cult following to worldwide mainstream awareness. This means that the audience at a B-52s show is a strange beast: an educated guess would say that around 70% are fans, whilst 20% are there to hear 'Love Shack' and the rest just want to hear Frank Schneider sing in *that* voice.
With the three original members (vocalists Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson) lined up at the front of the stage, opener 'Planet Claire' laid out the agenda for the rest of the night. Each singer was flanked by various percussion instruments that they used throughout the show and Cindy hammered away at some bongos whilst Kate sang a vocal line which matches that of the keyboards and Fred moved in a way that can only be described as 'dad dancing'. Whilst the two women dance and sway, it's Fred that really stole the show - when he wasn't dancing on the spot he was striding purposefully around the stage with whatever instrument he had in his hands or standing at the very edge of the stage singing to various sections of the crowd.
It's about half way through their relatively short main set, though, that Fred and Kate left the stage to let Cindy handle a song - 'Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland' - on her own (which went down really well with the crowd after what seemed like initial apprehension from the crowd). Stripped down in both number and sound, the song gave a chance for the musicians (who, apart from name checks later on hardly got acknowledged by the main three) to shine and prove - at least to those who were interested -that they were essentially holding the songs together.
Kate re-emerged and the audience were treated to a couple more Fred-less tracks before he returned to the stage and seemed a lot more relaxed, talking more between songs and looking as though he was enjoying himself a bit more. '6060-842' the band's 'punk song' says Fred, started to get people dancing with the next song 'Whammy Kiss' really getting people moving.
The band hit the hour mark and finished their main set with 'Love Shack' - a song that they looked to be having a little less fun playing but that the crowd went wild for. A lengthy call and response section gave everyone in the room the party atmosphere they'd come for and, whilst there was a slight feeling of 'the band having to play their big hit', the song really did sum up everything that's great about the B-52s in a little over five minutes.
Leaving the stage for what seems like a forever, they returned to play one more song before launching into 'Rock Lobster' and ending the show. The band clearly know how to leave their fans on a high and wanting more but with a show that lasted little more than one and a quarter hours that came with a £30 price tag, it probably would have been advisable to give them that little extra that they were crying out for.
So did the B-52s live up to their 'world's best party band' reputation? The answer, of course, is yes - it's just a shame it took an hour and THAT song to get the party properly started.Review by Jack Thomason