The B-52's can still out-cool the new bands

June 25, 1998|By Tamara Ikenberg | Tamara Ikenberg,SUN STAFF

When the B-52's started making music more than two decades ago, they knew certain audiences would clash with their bizarro blend of beehives and breakthrough sound.

"Fraternities and sororities weren't our bag," says B-52's singer and keyboardist Kate Pierson, during a telephone interview from the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. "They thought we were weird."

Unlikely as it seemed back then, the 50-year-old Pierson, whose ultra-high hairdos have always contrasted with her own ultra-short size, is satisfied to note that her group's clever and kitschy songs (especially "Rock Lobster," presumably the only pop song to mention a narwhal) have since become frat party anthems.

"Rock Lobster" and other quirky classics make up the seminal new wave group's greatest hits collection, "Time Capsule: Songs For A Future Generation."

Back in the day when the Athens, Georgia-based band decided against Greek gigs, they tried the local nightclub circuit. Initially, Pierson, Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson - who took a leave of absence after 1989's commercial breakthrough "Cosmic Thing" but has since returned - and Ricky Wilson, who died of AIDS in 1985, weren't warmly received.

"We would come in, dress strange and be anarchists," says Pierson, who, when in the Baltimore area, gets her flaming red beehive touched up at the Odyssey Salon in Aberdeen. Pierson added that clubgoers occasionally hurled bricks at the band.

But just as Joe Frat eventually embraced the music, it didn't take long for the B-52's to shake their way into the hearts of underground hipsters.

They remained a cult, club staple until "Cosmic Thing," which yielded the singles "Love Shack" and "Roam." The B-52's arrived on the charts late in their career, so their hits collection is not your standard string of No. 1 singles. Instead, it's a giddy grab bag of infectiously familiar, genre-defying gems.

"We didn't really have hits per se," Pierson says. Laughing, she adds, "We had hits in our own mind."

The B-52's exist in the funkiest of time warps. They effortlessly out-cooled popular alternative bands such as the Foo Fighters, Green Day and Everclear at the HFStival last month in Washington.

"Any group that's been around for a while likes playing in a mix like this," she says of the HFStival. " You don't want to be with the dreaded revival bands," she says, noting that rock comeback tours and oldies shows often carry a stigma.

"Some old blues singers sing till they're 80," she says. "Why shouldn't rock stars keep going?"

In fact, Pierson invokes the spirit of another timeless rock diva to help her survive the discomfort of grooving in tight metallic togs and heavy hair at humid summer rock concerts.

"I just think of Tina Turner," Pierson says. "Just turn it out."

B-52's

Who:: B-52's with the Pretenders

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion, Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia

Tickets: $35 for reserved seats, $25 for lawn

Call: 410-481-6500

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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