The B-52's, Still Dropping Cascades of Musical Bombshells

Monday, April 28, 2008

The mostly groove-tastic new album from the B-52's, "Funplex," is the band's first since 1992 (discounting compilations). The group has never gone away, really -- there's been market enough for the kitsch-crazed Athens, Ga., superfreaks to keep showing up and flogging "Rock Lobster" and "Love Shack" since then, and they probably could keep right on doing that until the mothership returns to carry frontman/mascot Fred Schneider back to his home planet.

Though you'd hardly know it from their meaty, beaty, big and bouncy performance Saturday at the 9:30 club, the packed-to-the-gills gig marked the eve of singer Kate Pierson's 60th birthday. But however suspicious the neon-redness of her hair, Pierson walked like an Egyptian and sang like a siren all night, playing the World's Coolest Grandma to Schneider's Creepy Neighbor. Pierson and Cindy Wilson's high harmonies shone on the Schneider-less numbers "Roam" and the new "Juliet of the Spirits"; on the '50s sci-fi prologue of "Planet Claire," Pierson wailed the organ part without a crack. Très cool!

Nearly half of the 85-minute set's 16 tunes were from "Funplex," built by guitarist/musical director Keith Strickland around a slight update to the 52's venerable formula: Pierson and Wilson's girl-group chemistry, Schneider's staccato interjections about robots, outer space and, er, the "spandex spiral vortex," plus rumbly grooves tricked out with electronica beats, circa 1996. Whatev; it works.

Dance music sounds so much better when performed live by an actual band of flesh, blood and several cubic yards of eyeliner. The airtight rhythm section of Tracy Wormworth (bass) and Sterling Campbell (drums) laid down a fat-bottomed groove for the four surviving original 52's (plus keyboardist Paul Gordon) to soar over. A conspicuous number of audience members in drag helped heighten the bacchanal atmosphere. Everybody's fruggin'!

-- Chris Klimek

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