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Aimsel Ponti

Aimsel Ponti is a Content Producer at MaineToday.com and a music writer for MaineToday.com and the Portland Press Herald. She has been obsessed with - and inspired by - music since she listened to Monkees records borrowed from the town library when she was six years old. She bought her first Rolling Stones record at a flea market when she was in 7th grade and discovered David Bowie a year later. She's a HUGE fan of the local music scene and covers it along with national musical happenings in her "Face the Music" column and with artist interviews that appear in print in the Portland Press Herald and online at Mainetoday.com. You'll also find her out and about absorbing live music like a sponge and roaming around local record shops and flea markets. Aimsel is also the host of Music from 207 on 98.9 WCLZ and appears monthly on the WCHS TV show “207” to talk about...music of course.

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Posted: May 29, 2018

Still riding the new wave 40 years on, The B-52s to party in Portland

Written by: Aimsel Ponti

Photo by Pieter M. Van Hattem

So there I was, an eighth-grader, at a rehearsal for a school talent show I was hosting. Two classmates of mine, sisters Suzie and Janie, sang and did a dance routine to The B-52s song “Mesopotamia.” I was mesmerized. Other than “Rock Lobster,” it was the only song I had ever heard by the band, and to this day, it’s among my favorites.

Now here we are in 2018, and somehow I’ve never managed to see this band that I adore perform live. That’s about to change, as I’ll be among the revelers when The B-52s take the stage at Aura on Sunday night.

But why all the fuss? That’s easy. Nobody sounds quite like The B-52s. Its distinct concoction of new-wave-meets-surf-meets-dance is truly its own private Idaho. Listening to The B-52s is a guaranteed good time because the lyrics are delightfully wacky while also clever. It’s impossible to not feel, well, cool, as you sing at the top of your lungs to any number of the songs, many of which mention parties where any number of things can happen.

Here’s a little B-52s 101. The band formed in Athens, Georgia, and the original lineup was Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland. Ricky Wilson passed away in 1985, but the other four members have kept the party train rolling all these years, with a few pauses here and there. And although Strickland no longer tours with the band, he’s still an official member. The B-52s released its first single, “Rock Lobster,” in 1978, and the longer version that we all know and love is on the 1979 self-titled debut album. Side one of that album is legendary, with “Planet Claire,” “52 Girls,” “Dance This Mess Around” and the just-under-seven-minutes-of-perfection that is “Rock Lobster.”

“Wild Planet” followed in 1980 with the standout tracks “Party Out of Bounds,” “Private Idaho” and a song about a little dog called “Quiche Lorraine.”

In 1983, the band put out “Whammy!” with “Legal Tender,” Whammy Kiss” and a personal favorite, which I sure hope to hear on Sunday, “Song for a Future Generation.”

In 1986, came “Bouncing Off the Satellites,” with “Summer of Love,” “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland” and a song I adopted long ago as my cleaning anthem, “Housework.”

The band by this point had long been internationally known, and album sales were steady. Little did it know what was coming in 1989, when it crossed way over into the mainstream – without compromising its signature sound – with the release of “Cosmic Thing.” This is the album with “Roam,” “Deadbeat Club” and “Channel Z.” It’s also the album with the biggest song of the band’s career, the one that made it all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard Top 40 chart. Of course, I’m talking about “Love Shack.” I still hear this one on the radio. And I still sing along with it every time because who can resist lines like “Hop in my Chrysler, it’s as big as a whale and it’s about to set sail.” I am living for the moment when we can all sing along with Cindy Wilson as she belts out what are arguably the three most famous words ever to be sung by The B-52s: “TIN ROOF….RUSTED!”

Four decades into its career, The B-52s have sold more than 20 million albums, and I can’t even begin to imagine how many parties and assorted good times their music has been the soundtrack to. I love this band.

So when offered the chance to interview Kate Pierson, I gleefully accepted. Not only was she happy to answer questions about the band’s lasting popularity, she was also entirely understanding when a bad connection made the interview challenging. But between my trusty digital recorder and a race back to my desk to type up old-school notes in a last ditch effort to salvage the chat, I managed to get enough worth sharing.

I asked Pierson about how it feels to have hit the 40-year mark with the band, and she told me that it feels like time has flown. “We’re proud we’ve stayed together. We’ve maintained the band and still enjoy each other’s company, and we’re all still friends.”

As to why the band has stayed relevant, Pierson cites its unique sound. “It’s undeniable when you hear us. The sound has evolved over the years, but the core sound is undeniable.” She also said most of the band’s songs were written collaboratively in jam sessions, which makes for unusual songs.

I wondered if she had grown tired of “Love Shack,” having played it so many times over the past three decades. Thankfully, she said no. “Love Shack is very danceable, and it’s very entertaining to watch audience reactions. It never gets old.” It’s a sentiment she echoed about “Rock Lobster.”

At present, Pierson is working on her second solo album, which will include a collaboration with Mexican singer-songwriter Aleks Syntek called “That Great Invisible Wall,” about President Trump’s proposed border wall.

Pierson also professed her love for Maine. Her former partner from several years ago is the late Maine artist Tim Rollins, who passed away in December. During the time of that relationship, Pierson visited Maine many times and looks forward to coming back.

If you’re one of the lucky ticket holders to this sold-out show, I can’t wait to dance this mess around with you. I hope to see some funky outfits, and I expect everyone to be in an extremely good mood.

Lastly, I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anywhere better on the planet to hear “Rock Lobster” live than in Maine. Please pass the tanning butter.

The B-52s

WHEN: 8 p.m. Sunday.

WHERE: Aura, 121 Center St., Portland, $59.50, 18-plus. SOLD-OUT. auramaine.com

 

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