Party Out of Bounds: The B-52s at Rams Head Live, May 22
â€śHello, Charm City!â€ť Fred Schneider barked a few minutes after arriving on-stage at Rams Head Live. â€śThis oneâ€™s a dance song,â€ť he continued, introducing â€śMesopotamia,â€ť as is if itâ€™s any more of a dance song than pretty much every other tune The B-52s performed on Saturday, or in their entire 35-year history. Schneider had just been in Baltimore last month to play a benefit for the American Visionary Art Museum, but now heâ€™d returned with his longtime band for a run through the Athens, Ga. veteransâ€™ back catalog.
Itâ€™s been two years since the B-52s released their excellent comeback album Funplex, and while touring in support of the album is ostensibly over, itâ€™s still a major presence in the bandâ€™s set-list, which opened with â€śPumpâ€ť and featured half the albumâ€™s songs. Founding members Schneider, singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, and guitarist Keith Strickland were backed with a bare minimum of supporting musicians, just a rhythm section and keyboardist. And the 7-piece bandâ€™s live sound was a satisfying halfway point between the scrappy surf punk of their 1979 self-titled debut and the pop polish favored since 1989â€™s mainstream breakthrough Cosmic Thing.
Schneider is the bandâ€™s default center of attention, the smallest gestures of his surprisingly restrained stage presence often taking a song to another level, be it the slight variations in inflection during his surreal monologues in â€śQuiche Lorraine,â€ť or the way heâ€™d strike a ridiculous pose and hold it for what felt like a full minute, an arched eyebrow his only movement.
But Wilson and Piersonâ€™s own beautiful harmonies and campy shrieks are an equally essential part of the B-52s experience, and Schneider willingly ceded the stage to the girls for â€ś52 Girlsâ€ť and â€śRoamâ€ť halfway through the set. At the beginning of â€śParty Out of Bounds,â€ť Schneider ran back out in a goofy hat and sunglasses to yell â€śsurprise!â€ť And when technical issues forced the band to stop the song a minute in and start over, Schneider deadpanned â€śthat was the single edit,â€ť then modified the intro to â€śsurprise again!â€ť
Although the B-52s still put out an impressive amount of energy for a band whose founding membersâ€™ ages average around 60, there was at least one moment where it felt like they were going through the motions a bit. And unfortunately, that moment was the set-closing rendition of their biggest hit, â€śLove Shack,â€ť which felt strangely slack, and only took on a bit of electricity when Wilson attacked her famous â€śtin roof, rustedâ€ť ad lib. Fortunately, the band regained their mojo with the encore, which featured a dramatic run through â€śPlanet Claireâ€ť with the stage bathed in red light, and the bandâ€™s more irrepressibly energetic other immortal pop hit, â€śRock Lobster.â€ť