The surprising aspect of the B-52s’ sold-out show Monday night at Red Butte Garden wasn’t the fact that the Athens, Georgia-based crew can still throw a serious dance party 36 years into its career; it’s that the sound of the B-52s remains just as distinct, joyful and odd as it sounded when the band landed on the musical landscape in the late ’70s.
The call-and-response vocal stylings of singers Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson remain the calling card of the band, whether they are delivering classic New Wave cuts like the show-closing “Rock Lobster” or percussion-heavy World Beat bangers like “Mesopotamia” that veer into art-rock territory (granted, it’s a party-hearty brand of art-rock, but still). No one sounds like the B-52s, and the B-52s sound like no one that came before them, despite incorporating familiar sounds like surf-rock and doo-wop into their brand of rock.
The B-52s set was high-energy all the way, and at 13 songs and just more than an hour, it was also relatively brief. Even so, their set covered all the ground long-time fans could hope for. There were the early tunes that forged the band’s identity before founding guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS-related complications in the mid-’80s, songs like “Private Idaho,” “52 Girls,” “Hot Corner” and “Whammy Kiss.” And there were the songs that marked the band’s commercial heyday after the group had recovered from Wilson’s death and former drummer Ricky Strickland had switched to guitar and started writing songs—tunes like “Roam,” “Funplex,” “Love in the Year 3000″ and, of course, the monster hit “Love Shack,” which was a raucous singalong Monday night.
Cindy Wilson’s “Give Me Back My Man” was a highlight of the show, as was the encore-opening “Planet Claire.” Schneider, Wilson and Pierson all still sound great, and the audience responded to the band’s set passionately, dancing from the moment the B-52s took the stage–and that’s not always an easy trick with a Red Butte Garden audience.
They got some help from tourmates Squeeze, the Brit-pop crew who delivered a 19-song set of old tunes and new songs that got the crowd moving while the sun was still heating up the venue.
Led by the always affable Glenn Tilbrook and his songwriting partner Chris Difford, Squeeze played a solid 90 minutes of hyper-literate rock that started with the insistent “Take Me I’m Yours” and ended with an extended take on “Black Coffee in Bed,” and touched on all eras of the band’s career in between.
Noting that he typically wears a suit (like most of the band still did, despite the temperature Monday night), Tilbrook sported shorts as he lead the band through songs like “Up the Junction,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Is That Love” and “Goodbye Girl.” Difford sang lead on the excellent “Cool for Cats,” and the band had worked out some sound issues well before a closing blast of songs that included “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Hourglass,” “Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)” and “Tempted” before the encore.
Tillbrook noted that the last time Squeeze had visited Salt Lake City, the band had a serious fight. Maybe that’s what kept them from returning for about 20 years. Given the response the band got from the Red Butte audience, I’d hazard a guess Squeeze might be back sooner rather than later.
And if they’re paired with a band as fun as the B-52s next time around, it’s sure to be another sell-out.
Photos by Amy Norris
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.