Live at the Greek Theatre in L.A., '80s vs '90s round two:
The B-52s vs Squeeze at the Greek Theatre Saturday, June 30th. (Winner: Squeeze)
Although kind of strange bedfellows, Squeeze and the B-52s was over all a blast (from-the-past). However, a much more appropriate bill would have been B-52's and Devo-who are appearing at the Greek in September opening for Blondie. (Talking Heads and Oingo Boingo couldn't be reached for comment.) The B-52s have done several of these types of tours in the past with acts such as the Pretenders and the Go-Go's. These dual headliner shows are a great way to kill two birds with one ticket, however, I can't abide by the fact that the bands this evening both played under 80 minutes. They both have over 35 years of material to draw on, is 90 minutes too much to ask for?
I hadn't seen Squeeze since 2010, nor the B-52s since before their last release, and I was in the mood for some good old fashioned, yet sophisticated "Britpop" and retro, kitschy surf guitar based pop rock. Obviously, you can't get through a night like this without the ugly N-word popping up. O.K., so it's purely an adventure in nostalgia, so what? Music was more fun and carefree back then. Hell, so was life in general...
Their first area gig since debuting at Coachella just a few months ago, Squeeze hit the stage just after 7:30 while still light out. Lead singer/guitarist Glen Tilbrook-sporting a ridiculously long beard-walked over to his mic and bellowed: "Hello, what the devil are you doing here?" With that, they launched into a fine version of "Take Me I'm Yours," the excellent marching drum beat powered track. The band was in excellent form and got down to business, sending long time fans on a trip down memory lane. Tilbrook infused the tune with an extended, tasteful guitar solo. It's easy to forget how gifted he is as a guitar-slinger, albeit a melodic, understated one. "If I Didn't Love You, I'd Hate You" sounded just like the original record-only live. Next came "In Quintessence," and "Is That Love," a pair of songs from East Side Story, one of their best albums, the latter sounding far stronger. Tilbrook joked that they had a "string quartet hidden backstage-they're way too glamorous to have out on stage with us" for their first of 3 new songs from their upcoming release, an orchestrated track about racism called "Tommy." Another new song, "Top of the Form" had a fun Ska beat, and sounded like a song recorded back in the day, but wasn't catchy enough to be counted as an instant classic. "Another Nail in My Heart," the wounded romantic's theme song was letter-perfect. Of course Chris Difford got his chance at the mic for a rollicking "Cool For Cats." Another pop classic about forlorn love, "Up The Junction," sounded as fresh as ever. The final new song, "Honey Child" had a kind of charm Squeeze are famous for, with lyrics once again lamenting star-crossed love.
A very strange wild card showed up little more than halfway through: "Bang Bang," the band's second single and a song that Difford and Tilbrook are not proud of. (They refused to let be included on any of their compilations.) More power pop fueled classics followed, including "Goodbye Girl," and the barnstormer: "Hourglass." The manic energy of "Hourglass" being a show highlight. "Annie Get Your Gun," doesn't hold up well and should be retired. After asking "How we doing now?" for the umpteenth time, Tilbrook and company closed with two of their best songs: "Pulling Mussels From the Shell," probably the best vacation story ever set to song, and "Tempted." Right before "Tempted," the audience started clapping in unison to the tempo of their classic ode to infidelity, knowing in advance it was a forgone conclusion they'd end with it. Very few of us were not singing along to that one. But the crowd wasn't done with them yet. Squeeze encored with a ferocious "Slap and Tickle," and an understated, extended "Black Coffee in Bed" which featured a funky kicker and one of G.T.'s inimitable band introductions at the end.
Missed opporTUNEities: "Trust Me To Open My Mouth, "Footprints," and "If It's Love" should've been included. Verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The B-52's are the only band I can think of that's been together over 35 years now that only has 8 original albums! And after all these years, you'd think they'd know how to start a concert, but curiously, the whacky, tacky foursome opened with "Eyes Wide Open," a very mediocre track from 2008's Funplex, making thousands of people who stood up upon the bands' arrival thinking they were going to get an irresistible dance classic-feel foolish. They then underwhelmed with "Mesopotamia," the less-than-stellar EP title track. Finally, they kicked things into high gear with a rousing version of "Private Idaho." Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson proving they still got game while playing off each other. Next, Cindy Wilson struggled with the upper register vocals on "Give Me Back My Man," but she soldiered on fairly well the rest of the evening. "Funplex," their ode to consumerism failed to excite, just another chance to relax till the real deal came along again.
It's hard to believe it's been almost a quarter of a century since the release of their best album, Cosmic Thing. Sadly missing from the set was that album's excellent "Channel Z," and the raucous title track. However, "Roam," a song a lot of people were anticipating, didn't disappoint. Everyone was back on their feet, dancing and chiming in-and continued on for "52 Girls," which rocked. Three of their better recent songs, "Love in the Year 3000," "Too Much Too Think About," and "Hot Corner" where enjoyable enough, although "Ultraviolet" should have made the cut too. Then came the one-two punch of "Whammy Kiss" and "Love Shack." Of course everyone including nearby rodents were up on their feet for "Love Shack," being the second of the band's triple crown legacy, and the show closer. It wasn't long till they got back on stage for the "Peter Gunn Theme"' meets 50s Sci-Fi soundtrack; "Planet Claire" which was super fun. Of course they closed with the ultimate beach party tune, "Rock Lobster ." The crowd was at fever pitch during what we all knew had to be the night's last song. Yes, everyone was rockin, everyone was groovin, and I was on the lookout for piranhas....
Missed opporTUNEities: Hard to overlook in a stingy 70-minute set, almost a third of the songs were marginally enjoyable-especially when they left out classics like previously mentioned Cosmic Thing tracks, "Lava," "Strobe Light," "Dance This Mess Around," and "Song For a Future Generation." It's just not a party without those songs. They also missed out on a great team-up with Squeeze: "Red Lobster in Bed." Verdict: 3 out of 5 stars.
Overall, a somewhat gnarly show, have a bitchin' Summer!
Photos by Debi Del Grande.