SXSW Music Live: Cindy Wilson

B-52s beehive tames down

As one-quarter of the B-52s, Cindy Wilson doesn’t demand much sell here in Austin. Her performance outside at Sidewinder on the first night of SXSW Music showcases proved that. 2017 marks the 40th anniversary of her New Wave rock lobsters, but the singer endeavored down a new, psychedelic path of overdubbed vocals and swirling, heavy-lidded grooves.

Photo by David Brendan Hall

Backed by a quartet during her hourlong set, Wilson, 60, eschewed B-52s' wackiness, immersing herself instead in the headier atmospherics found on two recent solo EPs, Sunrise and Supernatural. Her trademark falsetto wail lent itself to moody, reverbed, and flange-washed electronics that soared her voice above a ballast of funk-inflected bass rhythms and pocket percussion.

On “Change,” she morphed that voice from deranged cackles into feathery whispers, and a crooning coo accompanied by kaleidoscopic audiovisuals. “Sunrise” coalesced smooth strings and languid guitar warps behind Wilson’s honey-dripped cadences. Impish wordplay and wacky chromatic guitar riffs stayed at bay for bass-slap funk zest, circular fretwork, and bubbling electronics.

That’s the paradox here: Wilson’s neon-glo project invites a Sixties trip, but there’s none of the party absurdism for which fans worship her. Everything’s tame. Sporadic vocal fluctuations turn to breathy timbres and infectious guitar throbs roll back to simplistic note roundabouts, but the joyous blowouts are stifled.

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Cindy Wilson, SXSW Music 2017, B-52s

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