On Valentine’s Day, 1977, the music world as we know it changed forever: Irrepressible New Wave party band The B-52s played its first gig together. In the coming decades, the Athens, Georgia, group would become one of rock’s most daring and singular bands, thanks to songs like sci-fi synth-pop jam “Planet Claire,” punk rave-up “Private Idaho” and kaleidoscopic pop smash “Love Shack.”
During The B-52s’ early days, however, vocalist Fred Schneider recalls things being quite different. “We paid to play,” he says. “We all had very low-paying jobs—I mean, I had, like, five jobs that I had to quit. I was the meal delivery coordinator for Clarke County for Meals on Wheels. I’d been a dishwasher, just so we could start performing. [Then] it just started snowballing. I never planned on a career in music at all, so I should say I’m very lucky.”
In hindsight, it’s easy to see why The B-52s resonated with so many people. The band’s catalog is simultaneously retro and futuristic, completely unselfconscious and 100 percent true to the band’s unique personalities. Over the decades, that approach hasn’t changed: Whether the band is performing with symphonies, as it has in recent years, or playing club shows—as it will three times this weekend at House of Blues—that freak flag-flying spirit rings true.
“It’s been 40 years. I was ready to retire—just, you know, stop,” Schneider says. “Luckily, they talked me into doing it again. I realized I’m my family’s no-interest loan, no-payback loan bank, so I gotta keep working,” he laughs.
He says The B-52s aren’t working on any new material, but individual band members are releasing new music. Vocalist Kate Pierson released a solo record, Guitars and Microphones, in 2015, and vocalist Cindy Wilson has also been issuing solo work, most recently this year’s Supernatural EP. Schneider, meanwhile, very quietly just dropped a full-length, The Vertical Mind, with his other band, The Superions.
And, smartly, the group is planning to commemorate its enduring career. Schneider says he and the other members have started plotting out a book showcasing pictures and anecdotes. A vinyl reissue campaign is also in the cards, possible for 2018, which Schneider points out will mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s debut single, “Rock Lobster.” “We’re milking it,” Schneider laughs.
As he looks back over the decades, the endlessly energetic musician has a quick response to a query about the band’s top accomplishment. “The fact that we did it our way. We didn’t depend on anybody else, except the producers, to make our vision come to fruition. And the fact that we still are recognized. People know The B-52s, [though] we’re not given the credit. They have all those rock books, [and] we’re usually not in them, but who cares? Nobody buys those books anyway.”
The B-52s July 7-9, 7:30 p.m., $36-$185. House of Blues, 702-632-7600.