As if I haven’t boasted about my daughter enough already, as a birth-/Father’s Day gift, she got tickets for me and Madame BOF to see the B-52s last night at the Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York. Like many contemporaneous bands (e.g., R.E.M.), they came out of Athens, Georgia, in the 1970s, and for those of you who didn’t already know it, they are named indirectly after the ubiquitous Cold War bomber seen in such classics as Dr. Strangelove. While researching them on Wikipedia, I learned that after more than thirty years, they officially dropped the apostrophe from their name in 2008, a move applauded by this professional wordsmith, as it isn’t possessive.
It’s interesting how our affection for some bands comes by a kind of osmosis, where you hear a song here and there and finally say, “Hey, those guys are pretty good,” while in other cases, like my first seeing Stop Making Sense, you can trace it to a specific event. In this case, my entrée was having a certain, shall we say, somewhat disreputable former member of my wife’s family play “Love Shack” for me, which led to the purchase of my favorite B-52s album, Cosmic Thing, and a compilation of their videos from 1979 to 1989. It’s one of the two things for which I will always be grateful to this individual (although I can’t really discuss the other one in this forum).
I haven’t been to a lot of concerts, so I don’t have much of a basis for comparison, but I found the Music Hall to be a small yet charming venue, well suited to the group. Alexandra obviously had to take what she could get in the way of tickets, and we were literally in the last row, but even from there we had a pretty good view of the stage. A Brooklyn band we’d never heard of called Living Days opened for the B-52s; I found them quite listenable, if that is a word, and although Loreen liked them less than I did, the fact that the lead singer was a leggy blonde in micro-shorts, betraying an evident Annie Lennox influence, may admittedly have been a factor.
The B-52s are one of my favorite second-tier bands, which as defined in the Bradley lexicon is anybody below the Beatles and Talking Heads, and as such, while I own most of their albums, I don’t know their work on what we might call the genetic level, the way I do with the Fab Four or the Heads. Last night’s set included some B-52s old standbys (e.g., “Private Idaho”), some cuts from Cosmic Thing (e.g., the title track and “Deadbeat Club”), some stuff I was less familiar with (“Party Out of Bounds,” “Mesopotamia,” “Whammy Kiss”), and some stuff I didn’t recognize, at least one of them (“Love in the Year 3000”) from their 2008 album Funplex, which I don’t have.
Needless to say, if they had not played “Love Shack,” I would probably have stormed the stage, but in light of its popularity, I need not have worried, and they selected that to end their main set after a little more than an hour. There were four other songs that I was especially hoping to hear (e.g., “Legal Tender,” “Song for a Future Generation,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland”), only one of which (“Roam”) they actually played. Following loud and persistent applause, they encored with rousing renditions of “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” (to which Madame BOF won a high-school dance contest), which brought the entire performance to about ninety minutes.
The one overriding impression I have always gotten from the B-52s is what a fun band they are, from the endearing loopiness of their videos to the obviously affectionate interplay among them (although, watching Stop Making Sense, I’d have said the same about the Heads, and look what’s happened there). I always figured they’d be an awesome band to see live, and I finally had the chance to confirm that theory last night, with the band and the audience having an equally great time. About 99% of us stood the moment they came out and stayed that way the whole time; my apologies to the woman sitting right in front of me, whom I hit in the head during “Love Shack.”