The B-52’s @ The Classic Center, Athens, Ga, 09.02.12

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You wish you looked at good as this

By Scott Creney and Brigette Herron

Brigette and I figured we’d each write our own review and then merge the two into a coherent, seamless whole. But it turns out I’m not smart enough to do that.

Scott’s part:

This is being written at the request of our editor. And since he’s already pissed at us, you’d better believe we’re going to do what he says. As I’ve learned this week, any act of rebellion, no matter how trivial — in fact, especially if it’s trivial — always deserves our contempt. Thank you, Collapse Board commenters for opening my eyes.

I’ve been to hundreds and hundreds of shows in my life. I rarely dance — I’m 6’4”, self-conscious and incredibly lazy — but there are two bands I’ve seen where I could not stand still despite myself. The first one is Pylon.

And the other one is The B-52’s last night in their — and Brigette’s — hometown of Athens, Georgia.

People tend to define art by its differences, and so The B-52’s have always been labeled as camp, funny, outrageous, etc. And they’re all of those things. But their music, as evidenced above, can also be as raw and emotionally powerful as Aretha Franklin, or John Lennon, or anyone else you want to throw out there. Their art may have been cloaked in disguises, hidden beneath layers of irony, but there was a real warmth and sincerity at the heart of their music. It’s why people loved the band then. And it’s why a great number of people still love them today.

Not to take anything away from Kate or Fred, but the first minute and a half suggests that Cindy Wilson may have been the greatest soul singer of her generation. You can hear the audience screaming in the background. They’re convinced.

See the guitarist? The guy on the left? That’s Cindy Wilson’s brother, Ricky. He died five years after this was filmed. The drummer, Keith, eventually took over on guitar. He and Ricky had been best friends since high school. They grew up gay and brave in a 70s Athens that was openly hostile towards that kind of thing. 21st Century Athens (to say nothing of 80s Athens, or American society as a whole) is a better place because of their courage.

Watching Keith play Ricky’s parts on guitar last night, usually followed by Keith claiming, “Ricky is here tonight,” was almost unbearably moving. And not one person in the room doubted its truth.

Today’s B-52’s are a more professional, showbiz kind of experience, but it’s still fantastic. The beats are less skittish than they used to be — the rhythm section is fucking ferocious. Keep in mind the average B-52 is 60 years old.

The B-52’s prove it’s possible to love your friends and form your own world together. Their music has always been welcoming and human in the best possible way. They’ve been able to grow old together and still maintain their dignity. Here’s their first recorded performance. They were young and beautiful, making it up as they went along. In the best sense, they still are.

So it goes without saying getting asked to open for them in our hometown of Athens was a pretty big thrill. It would be the biggest audience we’ve ever played to, and we’d be doing it front of our friends and family, supporting our heroes. We were thrilled.

The day of the show I got a call from my Mom saying she’d just returned from a couple of days in the hospital due to complications from her colonoscopy. She’s OK for the moment. But we’re still waiting to hear what the doctors might have found. I was crushed.

But that’s the way life is sometimes — triumph and defeat all swimming together in a big fucking mess. Tragedy will find you, but so will joy. It’s the combination of these opposites, knowing you can’t have one without the other, that makes their music so alive, and in many respects, more moving and profound than ever.

Brigette’s part:

Last night my band had the great honor of opening for The B-52’s in our shared hometown of Athens, GA. Before we played our last song I tried to tell the audience what this meant to me, but with all of the nerves and adrenaline, who knows what actually came out of my mouth. But here is what I meant to say, and I mean every word.

Athens is a great place to play music. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a place where you have the freedom to make the kind of music you want and be the kind of person that you want to be, no matter how weird or strange you are. For a group of misfits like us, that means a lot. And this is largely due to the fact that The B-52’s did it here first.

I’ve heard from my “Old Athens” friends (This is how they refer to The B-52s and Limbo District and Pylon and early R.E.M. days — Old Athens, because certainly it has changed) that Athens used to be a place where if you dressed in drag and walked down the street, you were likely to get beat up by some jock-ish University students. But the art crowd did it anyway, and because they did it first my friends and I have the luxury of being ourselves. With the success of The B-52’s came a certain mainstream acceptance in our town for weirder, “out there” music and eccentric types. Girl, boy, gay, straight … like we could give a shit! Just have something interesting to say! I mean this was a band that was inspired by Yoko Ono at a time when most people only mentioned her as a punchline. They also inspired other great artists, like Keith Harring. Like I said, Athens is far from perfect today but the existence and subsequent success of The B-52’s changed my small southern hometown for the better.  This is not something we take for granted. Especially during times when it feels like the tide of the town could change at any minute, when people and bands in town herald careerism over all other reasons for making music.

It just makes you want to smash up a mic stand. It just makes you want to dive into the drum kit. It just makes you want to scream and whoop and holler and call up the dead.

Last night before The B-52’s played their encore of ‘Rock Lobster’, Keith Strickland leaned over into Cindy Wilson’s microphone and said, “Ricky Wilson is here tonight”. Where moments before I had been dancing so hard in the backstage wings, laughing until I was out of breath and my sides felt like they would split open, I began to tear up. Keith, who used to be the drummer made the switch to guitar after Ricky Wilson, the original guitarist and Cindy’s brother, died of AIDS/HIV related complications in 1985. So here was Keith, playing all of Ricky’s guitar parts to an audience 26 years later.  Half of my band was just entering this world as Ricky Wilson was leaving, and yet it felt like we got to know a part of him through his music. In a sense, this is also what Athens music is all about. It is a folk story about openness, compassion and the acceptance of all people that I can’t wait to pass on to the next generation.

Oh yeah, and The B-52’s were fucking GREAT last night.

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