What’s rarer than a band with a female bass player? How about two such groups sharing a stage at something other than the all-girl Lillith Fair?
After bassist and Talking Head alumna Tina Weymouth led the Tom Tom Club’s rhythm section through the band’s tight, percussive, and lively opening act, the B-52s flew onto Central Park’s Summer Stage last Friday night. With Sara Lee slapping away at the low notes, the Athens, Georgia ensemble mounted a just-plain-fun show perfectly suited to the urban outdoors on a surprisingly cool late-July evening.
Although this Southern band energized an enthusiastic and good-natured northeastern crowd well north of 25 years of age, their sound recalled an old surf-rock group from America’s far West. The entire affair wore a loose-fitting, light-hearted air of “Beach Blanket Bandshell.” The septet remained ever-playful, from the bouncy “Wammy Kiss” opener through the easygoing swing of “Roam” to the ever-infectious “Love Shack” that closed the 75-minute set.
Lead singer Fred Schneider threw his black leather jacket over a white tank top. Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson wore high-rise hairdos and brightly colored, glittery outfits that seemed borrowed from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In. These three zany vocalists resembled a pimp flanked by a pair of go-go girls — in the very best sense of those words.
Atop their get-ups, the band delivered one-liners and non-sequiturs that seasoned the festivities with a droll sense of self-mockery.
“What has turned us into such erotic powerhouses?” Schneider asked the audience. “It’s love ballads we do, such as this,” he continued, just before slipping into an energetic, strobe light-illuminated rendition of “Strobe Light.”
“This next song is all about the world of volcanoes and total destruction,” Schneider announced before the band uncorked “Lava.” “I want to jump in a crater,” Schneider sang. “See you later,” Pierson and Wilson replied.
At one point, Schneider tickled the plastic on a baby-blue Playskool-style mini-piano suitable for a two-year-old, complete with about a dozen brightly colored keys. Later, he repeatedly tapped out about five notes on a glockenspiel during “Give Me Back My Man.” Schneider referred to the proceedings as “Beautiful music, here on Lite FM.”
“After being together for 25 years,” Schneider said, “there’s one thing we never forget — each other’s names.” In addition to the aforementioned Sara Lee on bass, Kate Pierson on vocals and organ and Cindy Wilson on vocals and congas, Schneider indeed had no trouble identifying the rest of the band. Keith Strickland maneuvered his guitar in high gear with upbeat, rapid-fire licks. Pat Irwin performed double duty on keyboards and second guitar, doing them both justice. The group’s former guitar technician, Matt Flynn, has moved from backstage to the bandstand as its new drummer. He maintained a driving, danceable beat and occasionally tossed bright flourishes into the mix. Pierson, in turn, introduced Schneider to the crowd as “Mr. Cheez-It,” a reference to Schneider’s newfound passion for the junk-food item on the band’s current tour.
This merry crew encored with “Is That You, Mo-Dean?” and concluded with their biggest hit, “Rock Lobster,” a tune about revelers confronting crustaceans amid matching beach towels.
As a light breeze whistled through the trees, such frivolity was the perfect way to finish the work week and welcome a summer weekend.