The B-52s at the 9:30: Everybody’s Fruggin’!

The B-52s’ mostly groove-tastic new album Funplex, is their first since 1992 (discounting compilations). They’ve never gone away, really — there’s been market enough for the kitch-krazed Athens, GA superfreaks to keep showing up and flogging “Rock Lobster” and “Love Shack” since then, and they probably could have kept right on doing that until the mothership returned to carry frontman/mascot Fred Schneider back to his home planet.

Though you’d hardly know it from their meaty, beady, big and bouncy 85-minute performance, the 52s’ packed-to-the-gills Saturday-night 9:30 Club 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 siren all night, playing the World’s Coolest Grandma to Schneider’s Creepy Neighbor. (He claimed at one point to have 18 G-spots — a win for him; hard-to-delete mental imagery for us.) Pierson and Cindy Wilson’s high harmonies shined 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. Tres cool!

Nearly half the 16 tunes were from Funplex, built by guitarist/musical director Keith Strickland around a slight update to the 52s’ 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 eletronica beats circa 1996 or so. Whatevs; it works. Dance music sounds so, 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 52s (plus keyboardist Paul Gordon) to soar over. The presence of conspicuous number of audience members in drag helped the atmosphere of bacchanal, too. Everybody’s fruggin’!

The line “Let’s keep this party goin’ all night long / Things are getting’ dirty down in Washington!” was not a regionally-adapted bit of crowd-baiting; but in fact the actual lyric to the closing number on Funplex. Since it proved true beyond a doubt, one has to wonder what else Schneider wasn’t lying about. “Space-love in zero gravity”? The 18 G spots? Ow! My consciousness is expanding!

A shorter version of this review appears in today’s Paper of Record.

The B-52s at the 9:30 Club, Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Setlist

01 Pump

02 Mesopotamia

03 Private Idaho

04 Ultraviolet

05 Strobe Light

06 Party Out of Bounds

07 Juliet of the Spirits

08 Roam

09 Funplex

10 Hot Corner

11 Channel Z

12 Keep This Party Going

13 Love Shack


14 Planet Claire

15 Love in the Year 3000

16 Rock Lobster

The Band

Keith Strickland – lead guitar

Tracy Wormworth – bass

Paul Gordon – keyboards, guitar

Sterling Campbell – drums

Cindy Wilson – vocals, bongos

Kate Pierson – vocals

Fred Schneider – vocals, xylophone, tin whistle, mascot

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