Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The B-52's - Bouncing Off The Satellites

[Well, I'm back . . . sort of. I'm cheating a little, by backdating this one. I originally started it early in October, but never finished it in time for the anniversary I was trying to commemorate. Sorry for being away from this thing for so long. I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to post, but a combination of more pressing matters, time spent away, and simply my own general sloth kept me from creating actual words from my thoughts. No promises on how active I'll be in the next few days/weeks - I made that mistake last month! But, for now, here you go - enjoy:]

If you read my earlier posts, you know that I absolutely love The B-52's. I've been a fan of theirs for over thirty years (God, have they been around that long (and a more pertinent question - am I THAT old?)?), and have attended a countless number of their live shows (has to be somewhere around 12-15 now). I know this band back and forth, and can speak knowledgeably about band minutiae such as the name of Kate Pierson's pre-B-52's hippie band (The Sun Donuts), and as the relative quality of their opening acts over the years (The Bongos were pretty good, Royal Crescent Mob sucked). I briefly lived in Athens, GA, the band's hometown, and while I was there I used to go to Allen's for a beer (no longer 25 cents though (and this was before "Deadbeat Club" was even recorded, so gimme a break)), and on the way into school every day, I drove by the house at the far end of Milledge Avenue where the band played their legendary first concert, out on the back porch.

Probably my favorite of all the B-52's shows I've seen was the one they played Providence in March 1982, in support of their latest album Mesopotamia (I think it was called the "Meso-Americans Tour"). At the time, I was living and going to school in Newport, RI, and I had recently turned one of my new buddies there (we'll call him "Camob") onto the band. Camob came to Rhode Island straight out of the San Fernando Valley of suburban Los Angeles, and though he did his best to hide it, his unconscious mannerisms and vocal inflections pegged him as a straight-up early '80s "Valley Boy". He was like a bigger, beefier, less aggro Billy Zabka - only if Zabka had brown hair, no karate skills and a more normal, formative childhood. Camob was also smart as hell, although he was doing his level best to murder his cerebral cortex every weekend by liberally dousing it with as much ethanol as he could procure (the man had a stinging, insatiable yen for stinkwater that was truly remarkable for someone of his tender years, and positively hair-raising for a teetotaling geek like myself back then). Couple all of that with his Devo fandom, and it's no wonder we quickly became fast friends.

Anyway, after his first taste of their music, Camob dug the Bee-Fives pretty much from the get-go, and as such, he and I decided to go to the Providence concert. He talked one of our classmates into going with us as well - not that we were particular buddies with the guy, but mainly because he had a car we could use for the trip (well, that HE could use - I still couldn't drive just yet). The evening of the show, Camob and the other guy loaded up the car with brown-bagged "supplies" (I didn't bother to ask what they were), and we all headed across the Newport Bridge, en route to the state capital.

The sold-out show was at the Providence Performing Arts Center, a beautiful old opera house-type venue with red velvet seating and a huge balcony hanging over a third of the floor seating. We got to Providence early enough to find good parking close to the theater. But instead of running right in to claim our seats and settle in for the opening act, the other two guys with me insisted on breaking into their bags of "supplies", which basically consisted of several cans of semi-cold Busch beer and a contraption consisting of a long flexible plastic tube about an inch in diameter, with a funnel at one end. Being a nondrinker, I had no idea what the thing was for - looked like some sort of mouth douche to me. But I soon found out what the deal was, as the guys plugged up one end and began pouring can after can of brewski into this contraption, which they called a "beer bong". I watched in amazement as Camob held the bong high, raised the nonfunnel end to his lips, and in a flash emptied the equivalent of four cans of beer straight into his belly, without losing a drop (my boy was very proud of his ability to "open his throat" to make that happen . . . and we'll just leave that line alone . . .).

Needless to say, by the time the show started, Camob was roaring drunk. Our driving buddy, who didn't partake as liberally as Camob did, seemed to be holding his own; of course, I hadn't had a drop. I had more than a bit of concern regarding how we were going to be able to drive back to Newport later that night, but my worries were momentarily forgotten as the curtain came up. Like I mentioned earlier, the opening band, The Bongos, were pretty good. I'd never heard of them before that show, but a lot of their songs stuck with me, including "Number With Wings".

But of course, the main reason I was there was for the headliner, and they did not disappoint. The place was going apeshit as the B-52's played classic song after classic song. Outside of "Mesopotamia", I don't recall them playing anything else off of their latest album. The set was concentrated on the big hits from their first two discs: "Private Idaho", "52 Girls", "Rock Lobster", "Dance This Mess Around". People were out of their seats the entire time, dancing in the aisles and causing such a ruckus in the PPAC balcony that Fred Schneider paused the show momentarily to implore the people up there not to bounce around so much, lest they cause the balcony to collapse on the rest of the audience! Just a great, great show.

(And as for our return trip, Camob's friend had danced and sweated off enough booze to become sober enough to get us back to Newport. I rode shotgun, still petrified, ready to grab the wheel at the first sign of the guy slipping into a sudden alcohol coma, while Camob lay prone in the backseat, mumbling to himself in a profound liquor stupor - another TKO victory recorded by the infamous beer bong. Thank God he made it back there without booting - that would have made a bad ride THAT much worse.)

I've been there and back again with this band, long before their mainstream popularity, so the death of Ricky Wilson back in 1985 was particularly affecting. The guy was a guitar genius, and while Keith Strickland has definitely picked up where Ricky left off (and saved the band in the process), to this day the band is still missing the spirit that Ricky brought to their music. I'll always be a fan, though - as will Camob, who after all of the these years is still one of their #1 acolytes.

So on the 25th anniversary of his death, I offer you the last album recorded by all five original members, Bouncing Off The Satellites, released in September 1986 on Warner Brothers Records. This album doesn't quite have the loose, party-hearty feel of their earlier albums, but there is still enough in the way of goofy ideas and good music to make up for the overall stiffness and broader lack of imagination.


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  1. I'm a BIG fan of the B-52's and thanks to your site I got to learn few facts I wasn't aware of; plus I could hear "Creature in a Black Bikini" for the first time!! Such a shame this demo never made it to an album. "Bouncing Off the Satellites" is so underrated by the way... Thanx a lot! Bruno from France ;)