Concert: The B-52's and Squeeze in Los Angeles
New-wave nostalgia isn't pretty -- especially in the harsh light of day. There's something a bit disconcerting about seeing some of the leaders of a movement that thrived on youthful rebellion by rallying against the old guard become the old guard, even if you're along for the ride.
Saturday night's (6/30) pairing of The B-52's and Squeeze at the Greek Theatre could have been nothing more than an exercise of new-wave nostalgia, as both bands are at least two decades past their prime, but one act on the bill was able to rise above the shear novelty of it all -- the other, not so much.
Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was Squeeze -- which took the stage when it was still light out -- who proved to be more relevant in 2012, as the bulk of their best songs have a certain timelessness that plays as well now as it did in the '80s. The B-52's, on the other hand, were locked in a time warp for much of their set. And while they may have offered fans a pleasant trip back to their wilder, carefree days, they didn't offer much beyond that.
With original members vocalists Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson, and guitarist Keith Strickland backed by a group touring pros -- including ace drummer Sterling Campbell (David Bowie, Soul Asylum) -- the B-52's stumbled out of the gate, opening with "Eyes Wide Open," an unmemorable track from the band's most recent studio effort, 2008's "Funplex." Things didn't improve much with "Mesopotamia," the title track from a throwaway 1982 EP. It wasn't until three songs in, with 1980's "Private Idaho," that the B's finally got the party started in all their day-glo glory, with Schneider and Pierson trading verses, and Strickland's space-age surf-guitar riffs.
Yet the step forward was followed by a big step back, as Wilson had a hard time recreating her vocals on "Give Me Back My Man." "Funplex," the title track from their 2008 album, attempts to add some biting social commentary about vapid consumerism to the party with lines like "at the mall on a diet pill," but it was neither fun, nor too relevant in concert. Maybe they should have attacked the vapid consumerism and isolation of online shopping.
It's worth noting that the B-52's already had one legitimate comeback. In 1989, the band enjoyed their biggest commercial success with the album "Cosmic Thing" and the hits "Love Shack" and "Roam," the latter of which has proven to be their most timeless tune, free from the abundance of quirkiness that doesn't age well.
In concert, "Roam" proved hard to resist, as did "Love Shack" and set-closing early hits "Planet Claire" and "Rock Lobster." But between the hits, the B-52's material suffered from sameness and felt oddly dated, suggesting that perhaps it's time they hang up the day-glo and try a different approach, either together or as solo artists.
Squeeze, however -- who have split and reunited a few times over the years -- showed that they may still have a future together, offering a smattering of promising new material in between their classic and should-have-been hits. Glenn Tilbrook, who is sporting a ridiculously long goatee these days, is still in fine voice. Early in their career, Tilbrook and his foil Chris Difford were dubbed the new Lennon and McCartney, and although they failed to carry that weight, they do have an incredibly impressive catalog that they wheeled out to the delight of those that turned up early on Saturday. Songs like the opener "Take Me I'm Yours," "Is That Love," and "Pulling Mussels From a Shell" were a pure joy.
"Tempted," the band's biggest hit that was originally sung by short-time keyboardist Paul Carrack, was turned into a set-closing sing-along, while an encore of "Black Coffee in Bed" served as a reminder that Tilbrook and Difford penned two of the greatest break-up songs of the '80s that --like the best art -- transcend time and place.