Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The B-52’s at Asser Levy Park, Brooklyn NY 8/9/07

Tonight was full of surprises. The sky was a late-period Turner painting, wave after wave of thunderclouds galloping in from the ocean, rolling out toward central Brooklyn. Of course, we’d brought a picnic. The park was crawling with cops. Mathematically speaking, there had to be at least a small handful who hadn’t yet met their monthly quota of “quality of life” arrests, i.e. people pissing in the bushes, shagging in the grass or, perish the thought, drinking in public. These quotas officially don’t exist and are probably illegal, but as any New York cop will tell you, you’ll never get promoted unless you write the kind of tickets the top brass wants. Rudy Mussolini may be off running for President, but his stench remains. Yet nobody showed any interest in the suspicious little plastic cups into which we poured the beaujolais we’d brought in an equally suspicious clear plastic container. Maybe they weren’t paying any attention because they, too had come for the music. Maybe some of them actually were B-52’s fans. Not implausible.

 

Just like it would have been if this was 1979 and it was the band’s first tour, this was a gathering of the most unlikely people, like the off-duty firefighter in front of us hollering for the band to play Planet Claire. It definitely wasn’t the usual crowd that comes out to shows here: by the looks of it, the overwhelmingly white, local blue-collar contingent had been scared off by the impending monsoon. This time, the lawn was packed with kids who had come from all over New York to see “the world’s #1 party band.” It definitely wasn’t a nostalgia trip: they’d come expecting a good time, and maybe even because in a weird way, the B-52’s are actually kind of important. The band would probably laugh at that, but it’s true.

 

Considering that the nucleus of the group has basically been playing the same songs over and over and over again for practically thirty years, it’s hard to believe that they can inject any enthusiasm into their set. Yet somehow they do.  In the decades since their first album, Cindy Wilson, believe it or not, has become a hell of a singer. Kate Pierson has not. Fred Schneider is still a one-trick pony, and Keith Strickland has switched from drums to guitar. The other musicians are competent, if they don’t seem to be in on the joke that the original B-52’s still seem to find at least mildly entertaining after all these years. They ran through all the hits: Private Idaho, Strobe Light, Give Me Back My Man, Roam, and Love Shack (reinvented as funk, a genre this band should avoid at any cost). They also did three new numbers, a couple of garage songs and something of a midtempo ballad sung by Pierson. The new material is pretty generic: the silly spontaneity of their first couple of albums is completely absent. Played through concert-quality amps and bolstered by a bass player with studio chops, the old songs sound oddly focused but not rote: Schneider still barks and preens like in the old days, the womens’ vocals are still flat and ultimately, the music’s blatantly derivative but inimitably dadaesque sense of fun prevails. Say what you want about how original this band was (they weren’t), what good musicians they were (they weren’t) or what they had to say (not much), but they’re definitely in the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of the second-generation 60s garage-meets-new-wave songs they played tonight have become standards. Who ever would have thought in 1978 that almost thirty years later, Joe Strummer would be dead, but the B-52’s would still be together and playing stadiums.

 

On the minus side, the B-52’s brought camp to the masses. Not such a good thing, considering that the affectations of camp, along with the sarcasm that’s commonly mistaken for irony, have become the defining characteristics of the trendoid esthetic. But that crowd wasn’t here tonight, obviously: this band is all about fun, and they don’t have that in Williamsburg.

 

The firefighter in front of us roared and leaped with delight when they launched into the bassline from the Peter Gunn Theme, Pierson sang along with the synthesizer and Schneider began to intone, “She came from Planet Claire.” They saved Rock Lobster for last and did it note for note with the record. Nobody went “down, down, down” and did the crabwalk, but that was to be expected, as the first few raindrops were just starting to hit.

 

The show had started inexplicably early, causing a large portion of the crowd to show up halfway through the band’s set, or even later. Perhaps the promoters wanted them to get the show in before the rains came, figuring that nobody would bother to stick around for the other scheduled act, Patty Smyth and Scandal. If that was their hunch, they were right.

 

From there, we went to Banjo Jim’s, which has become an after-concert ritual lately. The former 9C is a nice, cozy place, a generally reliable reminder of what the East Village used to be. It wasn’t tonight. A balding, fortyish folksinger was playing loud acoustic guitar, badly, and going on and on about how we should just turn everything over to the Dalai Lama and everything will be ok. And what a sensitive guy he is and how he can’t wait to get back to California. I say, get this guy a ticket on the first plane out. I think his name was Ellie Elliott – can’t remember, considering how hard I was trying to tune him out. One of my accomplices spent most of her time outside the bar smoking, waiting for him to finish up and leave. And when she wasn’t outside, she was wishing she was. Banjo Jim’s, please do us all a favor and don’t bring this loser back, whatever his name was. 

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August 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment