It’s been 31 years since their first gig, and The B-52’s still rock the house. For a band of misfits from Athens, Georgia-who laid the foundations of alternative rock with their surreal, sexy lyrics over funky dance beats, thrift store-chic costumes, and gloriously garish beehive wigs-the Chumash Casino Resort is a decidedly strange venue: full of beeping slot machines and super-sized soft drinks. But strange has never fazed these wacky rockers.
With no opening band, The B-52’s hit the stage with “Mesopotamia,” and the decades-and the decadence-melted away to Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s peerless vocals and Fred Schneider’s inimitable sprechgesang. Since the death of original guitarist-and Cindy’s older brother-Ricky Wilson in 1985, the band has undergone a series of changes. Nevertheless, the current incarnation sounds as good as it ever has, with Keith Strickland on guitar and new faces on bass, drums, and keyboard. What The B-52’s haven’t changed is their oddball mix of cult appeal and superstar personas, carried on by the female Wilson in a Chinese silk jacket, enormous fake eyelashes, and bleach-blonde wig, Schneider’s over-the-top dance moves and tight white denim, and Pierson’s glitter-dusted bust, sweet baby face, and hip-swishing command of the stage.
From early hits like “Give Me Back My Man” and “Strobe Light,” to tracks off the new Funplex (which is scheduled for a February 2008 release), the band gave it all it had. Sadly, the absence of a dance floor kept the crowd confined to bopping in their seats. But when Pierson broke into “Roam,” my date was no longer able to control himself, and off he went to join the growing group at the corner of the stage. (Keep in mind, this is a guy who has “Private Idaho” set as his default ringtone.) It wasn’t until “Channel Z” that security removed the barriers closing off the floor and the crowd rushed the stage, transforming a night of great music to a bona fide dance party. The band responded in kind with a run of their greatest hits to round out the evening. Specifically, “Party Out of Bounds” and “Love Shack” sent the crowd into a polite frenzy. And just when we thought the night was over, back they came for a triple-punch of B-52’s perfection: “Planet Claire,” followed by the new “Love in the Year 3000,” and finished off the set with the one and only “Rock Lobster.” The crowd sang along gleefully, eyes closed and fists pounding, mouthing lyrics that made me think I could almost see the stingrays and narwhals drifting across the casino’s turquoise carpet.