With The Wild Crowd!: Live In Athens, GA
Eagle Records, 2011
REVIEW BY: Mark Millan
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/21/2011
I’ve always loved The B-52’s ever since I was a kid, and being lucky enough to see them live a couple of times, I can honestly say that they do their best work on stage in front of their adoring fans. That’s not to say they don’t make good albums, but most of them are a little patchy and a lot of the songs seem to only come to life when they hit the stage.
So at last, after thirty-five years, we fans finally have an official document that firmly demonstrates what a great live band these crazy cats really are. The band chose to record and film a show in their hometown of Athens on their US tour earlier this year, and did so in fact on the 34th anniversary of their very first live show on Valentine’s Day in 1977. Frustratingly, though, the DVD will not be released until sometime next year, which is an odd decision being that the CD/DVD combos are definitely the way to go these days.
Anyway, apart from that small gripe, I have nothing negative to say about this album at all because it just proves what I’ve always known and loved about these guys: they rock. Backed by a super-tight rhythm section (Sterling Campbell on drums and Tracy Wormworth on bass) and keyboardist/guitarist Paul Gordon, this fabulous foursome rip through a selection of old and new songs like it’s the last show they’ll ever play. Guitarist Keith Strickland leads the way with his instantly catchy riffs and Fred Schneider holds court with his unique vocal style is part call and response and part raving lunatic (in a fun way, though).
But to be completely honest, the stars of the band and the reason why they sound so damn good live are, of course, those gorgeous, colorful, and talented women. Cindy Wilson (clearly influenced by Janis) gives this group their edge and spontaneity, which always enhances their sound. Then there’s Kate Pierson, who without a doubt possesses one of the great voices in pop music today; her range and versatility give these songs their sheen and luster. Together, though, their harmonies are right up their with the best of them - I mean, without them, a song like “Roam” would be nothing more than a fine pop song, but it’s so much more than that and boy, does it sound glorious here.
It’s not the only highlight among these sizzling 17 tracks, though. Cindy takes the lead for the quirky “Give Me Back My Man,” which is always a joy to hear. “52 Girls” gets a retro ‘60s-style workout, and “Party Out Of Bounds” (led by Fred) has never sounded better than it does here. Newer songs (from the recent Funplex album) like “Pump,” “Funplex,” and “Ultraviolet” hold their own along side the old favorites like the freaky “Mesopotamia” and obligatory “Love Shack.”
Of those newer songs, though, the most unique and rewarding is the spaced-out “Love In The Year 3000,” which is one of their songs that has grown since its inception in the studio. Aside from the frantic rendition of “Rock Lobster,” my favorite song here and biggest surprise is the rocking and all too rarely played “Wig” from the band’s most disappointing album Bouncing Off The Satellites. Including it here is great, though, because surrounded by their finest moments it comes to life and is as vibrant and funny as ever.
Everything about this album is fantastic, from the recording and mix to the packaging and track list. Like I said before, The B-52’s are a great live band, and With The Wild Crowd is solid proof of that.