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Party Out of Bounds: The B-52s at Rams Head Live, May 22

May 26, 2010

“Hello, Charm City!” Fred Schneider barked a few minutes after arriving on-stage at Rams Head Live. “This one’s a dance song,” he continued, introducing “Mesopotamia,” as is if it’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 he’d returned with his longtime band for a run through the Athens, Ga. veterans’ back catalog.

It’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, it’s still a major presence in the band’s set-list, which opened with “Pump” and featured half the album’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 band’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 1989’s mainstream breakthrough Cosmic Thing.

Schneider is the band’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 “Quiche Lorraine,” or the way he’d strike a ridiculous pose and hold it for what felt like a full minute, an arched eyebrow his only movement.

But Wilson and Pierson’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 “52 Girls” and “Roam” halfway through the set. At the beginning of “Party Out of Bounds,” Schneider ran back out in a goofy hat and sunglasses to yell “surprise!” And when technical issues forced the band to stop the song a minute in and start over, Schneider deadpanned “that was the single edit,” then modified the intro to “surprise again!”

Although the B-52s still put out an impressive amount of energy for a band whose founding members’ 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, “Love Shack,” which felt strangely slack, and only took on a bit of electricity when Wilson attacked her famous “tin roof, rusted” ad lib. Fortunately, the band regained their mojo with the encore, which featured a dramatic run through “Planet Claire” with the stage bathed in red light, and the band’s more irrepressibly energetic other immortal pop hit, “Rock Lobster.”