In Britain and America, for the first 10 years of their life, the B52's were shunted into the cult hangar, adored by the few, ignored by the many. Until, that is, 'Love Shack' and 'Rock Lobster' (the only pop lyric to include the line 'Here comes a jellyfish') were picked up on their umpteenth re-release in the late Eighties and made them something more than just the other band from Athens, Georgia.
In Australia, however, they have always been mainstream; so popular, in fact, there are B52 tribute bands - called things like the Rock Lobsters - making a handy living. It is no surprise that the B52's should have taken off Down Under: the band inhabits the same nether-murk of kitsch that spawned Barry Humphries.
Ringmaster of folly is Fred Schneider, the lead singer, next to whom Julian Clary would appear firm-wristed. Mincing around in a pink suit and black flouncy- fronted shirt, Schneider kept a pursed- lipped poker-face throughout the proceedings, which is no mean feat when you are wearing, around your neck, five diamante crucifixes suspended from a bicycle chain.
Schneider doesn't really sing: he declaims ('Let me kiss your tummy / Let me kiss your bummy'), while the singing (well, shrieking) duties are left to his two female lieutenants. On his right, Kate Pierson, a ringer for Pauline Collins after a visit to Pat Phoenix's hairdresser, wore her customary short skirt, hot pants and enigmatic smile.
On his left was Julee Cruise, replacing Cindy Wilson, the founder member who left shortly before the recording of the new album. Cruise, a special guest on the tour, is better known for that apex of cool, the theme tune to Twin Peaks. Here she was not cool. With her teeth, peroxide wig and Bacofoil micro-mini she had the appearance of Hillary Clinton after a make- over by a Liberace fan. She danced in a style that suggested she had magnets of the same polarity strapped to her knees: every time she tried to push them together they seemed immediately to be sprung apart. Her hands, meanwhile, were being thrown all over the place, often in time to the music.
She was not the only one hurling herself around. Behind the singers, a battery of percussion and drums kept up a rhythm that rarely dipped below the frenetic and, after Schneider's ungrammatical greeting - 'Y'all can stand up, y'know London' - the audience could not stop jumping. Down the aisles confused bouncers looked alarmed at this unabashed outbreak, busying themselves shepherding dancers back to their seats.
If there was a complaint, it was that Julee Cruise was a little too enthused. When the three singers performed their silly Egyptian dance routine during 'Mesopotamia', or their crustacean stomp during 'Rock Lobster' Schneider was all catty and supercilious, while Pearson was economic and balletic. Cruise, though, couldn't keep a straight face. Understandable as that might be, looking as though they are serious about this stuff is an important element in the B52's ironic charm.
Her singing, however, neatly fitted into the B52 pattern: following Pierson's a semitone lower, she screamed discordantly through their not-so-full repertoire. Few though they are, and rarely complex, a B52 song is crisp, clean, witty. 'Around the World', for instance, is a wonderful pop song. Here, as the women yelled out its nagging chorus, Schneider disappeared back-stage for a towelling down, to be replaced by four members of the audience performing an ill-rehearsed dance routine involving bowler hats and unfurled umbrellas. Like Julee Cruise, they could not conceal their enjoyment.
The show was over in less than 90 minutes which is probably as well: B52 material would become thin stretched any further. But they finished, inevitably, with 'Love Shack' and 'Rock Lobster' and people were still grinning an hour later.
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