Party in Bounds: B-52s

I seen 'em at CB's, blowing the minds of jam-packed punks. I seen 'em at Jones Beach, going gala for elated collegians soon to vomit in the parking lot. I seen 'em on video, hypnotizing the preschool crowd. The future generations keep rolling out for the B-52's, who showcased their new best-of, Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation, at the Elbow Room last Wednesday, Present were maybe 300 friends, publicists, and members of the press, plus radio-station winners, who I'm guessing included the most enthusiastic viewer, a big twentyish blond throwing herself around up front. She made me sorry the guest-list:winner ratio wasn't reversed. The late-thirtyish crowd sang along, but didn't exactly party hard. Part of this 20-year-old band's continuing vitality lies in its ongoing ability to reach audiences that weren't there when (they play Jones Beach again June 19 and Radio City Music Hall June 24.)

Hippies-turned-retro-turned-futuristique, the B-52's have remained as advertised, both tacky and danceable. One minute they were nutty amateurs, the next disciplined pros, yet their music retained similar satisfactions at both ends--formal punch, crisp drumming, finely shaved vocal timing, and songs that combine call-and-response with all the natural charisma of extreme stupidity. Always they pursued tackiness with unimaginable vision and unfathomable stomach. Exploring the tackiness within, Fred Schneider found in fists on hips, wiggling finger, and petty annoyance a distant relative of rock complaint and raised it to a cute, wicked front-man stance.

The set, which included the usual exuberance and loudness, lasted 40 minutes, and Schneider and Kate Pierson, given their surgically implanted Energizer batteries, barely raised a sweat. The seven-member band included all the originals except Ricky Wilson, who died in 1985. And as the show ended, one of a group of ecstatic gay men returned my glance with a smile of such sweetness it brought back violently the memory this band always preserves of a generation that was there then, but isn't here now.

Village Voice, June 2, 1998