Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The B-52'S Live in Melbourne 2009 (review)

Venue: The Forum
Date: 03/12/09

The B-52’s have remained largely unaffected by any changing music trends what-so-ever for over thirty years. They are probably the most reliable band in terms of what they do, and always have done - just be their perpetually 'unfashionable' selves. In the late ‘70s when they first arrived with THAT song about crustaceans, nobody, especially the band themselves, thought they would last for very long. Muscling in to New York’s atrociously snobby punk and avante garde scene with two singers dressed as 1950’s go-go girls, and a moustached MC in ill-fitting garish trousers was probably a big joke to the band, but against all odds audiences were soon begging for more. Another probable 'joke' was having the equally ‘unfashionable’ Proclaimers open for them on this long awaited Australian tour. The only other possible reason might be that both band's success peaked in the late '80s, via irritatingly catchy singles, yet despite remaining together since, neither of the two acts equalled that particular commercial high again.

The Proclaimers as a live band actually work quite well. I wasn’t expecting much from the lads, but their mix of exuberance and daftness was a winning formula throughout the short set. Obviously nobody cared much what they played until the closing hit, I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles), but they warmed the place up brilliantly all the same. The B-52’s on the other hand, have at least have a dozen familiar songs to work with, yet all except for Love Shack and Rock Lobster, are essentially fan-only favourites, and not would you’d call ‘proper hits’. I guess I’m a fan in the sense I had a dream set list involving half album tracks and B-sides - none of which got played – but I have to wonder how bored these guys get playing the same set again and again. Still, none of the band looked as though they were just going through the motions; they long-ago earned their ‘best party band in the world’ title and aren’t planning on giving it up any time soon.

I don’t know if there’s something to ‘get’ or ‘not get’ about the B-52’s, but I think it helps to remember they don’t bring any pretensions with them about being ‘legendary’ or ‘revered’. On the one occasion they tried to be a little modern or arty, (Good Stuff, 1992) it failed them. This one commercial low point nearly spelled the end of band until once again they regained the love of their fans by going back to just being “silly-old B-52’s”. Since that time, they have rarely stopped touring their ‘greatest hits’ show and tonight, that’s exactly what we’re getting. However, the one down fall of playing such well loved songs over and over again is the self-awareness on display. During Love Shack, Cindy even counts in the ‘Tin roof… Rusted’ part, cuing the audience to join her on those famous and often mis-quoted lyrics. It’s not necessary, we all would have sung it anyway.

Unsurprisingly, they stick to the early stuff with the occasional track from last years comeback album Funplex while totally avoiding Good Stuff – the only album to not feature Cindy Wilson. Also, they turn up the silly for us tonight, making sure Melbourne’s 19 year wait for their return is a memorable one. For example, guitarist Keith Strickland has turned up dressed as Slash from Guns N’ Roses, and in character uses his ‘disguise’ to strike mock-rock poses throughout the show. Kate and Cindy, looking like some disco/flower-power clash, are beautifully made-up working the shimmering glittery frocks, and of course, crowned with those famous beehive wigs. The love for these two singers is boundless as displayed by the amount of fans in their own variations of the two’s ample hair pieces. Special mentions also for the many gaudy suited and frocked fans brightening up the place and to the brave guy holding up a ‘Cindy: be my koala butt’ placade. What on earth must she have thought?

Sadly the one real downer was the girls had the unenviable task of covering for Fred Schneider, who looked either bored stiff or mad as hell at some unknown, earlier development. The usually cartoon-ish front man stood motionless for the majority of his time on stage not really looking at anybody or anything, just marking time in between his sporadic vocal duties. Schneider even exits the stage during the few songs he has no singing parts in such as Roam, presumably to cool off. In complete contrast to Fred, it’s Cindy Wilson who looks to be having the most fun. The blonde B-52 bops around the stage smiling and leading the audience in all the sing-a-long parts like some crazed primary school teacher on ecstasy. Kate Pierson’s no slacker either but holds a steadier pose at her mic, seemingly more intent on hitting the notes than working the room.

Kate’s voice still has that rare joyful but also rough’n’sexy quality, while Cindy operates at a slightly lower octave making for the ultimate complimentary duo. It’s those voices offset by Schneider’s camp ‘nonsense monologues’ that make the B-52’s so endearing. As much as I’m busting to see Fred get into the moment and go off, hearing Kate and Cindy duet makes up for his, or for that matter anyone’s rotten mood. Back to the set list though, and the remarkable clout of newer songs Pump and Love In The Year 3000 from 2008’s Funplex next to the bracket of post-punk classics 52 Girls, Quiche Lorraine and Party Out Of Bounds. No matter the band, after many years making music most eventually lose their edge or carry on trying hard to recreate their hits period; but The B-52’s can proudly stack anything from 2008 alongside their early ‘80s gems without a hint of desperation for old glories. But it’s with past success’s in mind that we come to the finale, the only way to go out; Rock Lobster. Just as the audience are going wild for it, the band themselves have taken this stand-alone classic to an increasingly unhinged level. The parade of sea creatures Fred shouts out to which the girls respond to with appropriate sounds, now incorporates submarines, banana lounges, coconut trees etc… leaving Kate and Cindy to improvise some hilarious noises in the process. The extra long version of Rock Lobster brings to a close over three decades of whacky tracks crammed into 1 and a half hours. Like all good things, it’s over way too soon and leaving the Forum tonight, feels just like going home from a party with 5000 close friends.


Meeting Kate Pierson (aaahhh!!!)


Private Idaho
Give Me Back My Man
Party Out Of Bounds
Love Shack
Quiche Lorraine
52 Girls
Love In The Year 3000
Planet Claire
Rock Lobster

Cindy going OFF on the bongos. What a live wire!

Click the link to see B-52's playing "Rock Lobster" live in Melbourne:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyxdXYPuDII

photos by me & Daniela Rodriguez


  1. sing along parts like primary school teacher on esctacy "

    good one Leight wish I saw this

  2. and yes that man does look really boring
    and was wearing a deadly dull outfit :S

  3. This show was great. Kate Pierson is a GOD!