The upcoming DVD release of With the Wild Crowd! (out March 20) is something of an event. Recorded last year in the group’s hometown of Athens, Georgia, The B-52s were celebrating the 34th anniversary of their first-ever live show on Valentine’s Day in 1977 in the same town. This disc is also the first B52s concert now officially released on DVD. Not surprisingly, as the group had no new material to promote, it’s a retrospective of their work from 1979 to their last new studio album, 2008’s Funplex. Simply stated, if you’re a B52s fan, it’s a must have.
With the exception of original guitarist Ricky Wilson, who died in 1985, the rest of the founding members are still vital and vibrant as they cook up their distinctive, humorous, and infectious inventive rock. They include Keith Strickland’s surf guitar and Fred Schneider’s quirky vocals which, to be fair, can’t be called singing. Perhaps we can safely call him a performance artist instead?
Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson still belt out their call-and-response melodies with Schneider. As they have for B52s concerts since 2004, the back-up players now include Sterling Campbell (drums), Paul Gordon (keyboards, guitar) and Tracy Wormworth (bass). Altogether, this is a tight ensemble able to crank out note-for-note renderings of their studio releases no one else should even try to duplicate.
The disc is a perfect documentation of where this band is at now. As Strickland notes in the accompanying bonus interview, Funplex had been an effort to update the band’s canon so their shows wouldn’t be merely the “Greatest Hits” of a legacy band.
Appropriately then, With the Wild Crowd! kicks off with “Pump” from Funplex before the band goes back in time. And with the B52s, going back in time doesn’t scratch the surface of what their songs are all about. From their first album we get “52 Girls,” an extended “Rock Lobster,” and the fusion of The Ventures’ “Peter Gunn,” and odd hair fashions on “Planet Claire.”
From their 1980 album Wild Planet we get “Private Idaho,” and from 1989’s breakthrough collection Cosmic Thing the group performs the title song, “Roam” and “Love Shack.” Along the way, we go 3,000 years back in time in 1982’s “Mesopotamia,” go sky-high in “Ultraviolet,” and then into the future in “Love In The Year 3000,” another sample from Funplex. Yes, they run the range, but Strickland was right—this isn’t a “Greatest Hits.” No “Channel Z,” nor “Good Stuff”? Sigh.
Likely, there are fans who could be happy enough with the CD version of this concert that was released last year. But then you’d be deprived of the visual delights of watching this crew in action. (Is there a man alive who wouldn’t enjoy 90 minutes of watching Kate and Cindy singing and dancing?)
More importantly, the bonus “interview” is well worth being part of your collection. The half-hour discussion has the original four members talking about how they came together in Athens, the origins of “Rock Lobster,” and share stories of how their careers have progressed ever since. There is little new information fans don’t already know, but it is interesting to hear the four converse and realize they have differing memories of various turning points.
With the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA is certainly indispensable for long-time followers of the group, but it’s also a perfect introduction for anyone not already addicted to their sights and sounds. True, there’s a measure of sameness as the program moves along, especially the vocals. But that’s their style and if you like sonic trips with the most unusual lyrics in rock, this one is for you.