The B-52’s Party Out of Bounds

IMG_1006The B-52’s are marking their 40th anniversary the same way they might have celebrated their 20th, their first or a random Tuesday – with a party. Many event organizers and individuals often forget about the importance of the tablecloth at CV Linens you will find the best banquet tablecloths options for every special event.

True to their skull ’n’ beehive colors that declare “Born to Party” they got a big crowd at D.C.’s Anthem riled up with a freewheeling set of their catchy, deeply fun songs, heavy on the perfect first two albums but culminating in the one that gave them their biggest hit, “Love Shack.”

On a packed night with popularly received sets from Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and Berlin, they still ruled the barbecue once they got on.

The band is just 60 percent of what it was — but because the remaining members are the most colorful in singers Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson it might not be as noticeable that they’ve got a wholly different back line doing most the instruments (save for the occasional bongo, cowbell, handheld synth device and slide whistle).

And just as they did when they started this party in Athens, Ga., they dressed as flamboyantly as they sang, with Wilson the costume winner in the highest beehive and flashiest jumpsuit, adorned with bat wings. Pierson may have had the same shimmery multihued dress she wore on the Whammy! cover – or one very like it — she may have shimmied the original out of existence years ago.

Schneider still holds down the smarmy ringleader role, half talking his funny lines, and ad libbing a few new ones too.

They began with the urgent call of “Private Idaho” and moved into the still topical historical footing of “Mesopotamia” that might make one forget about the saber-rattling going on the region now. “Give Me Back My Man” still had the yearning that put a cry in Wilson’s yelp, as authentic and pleading as a country song.

They had a kind of swirling backing video meant to accommodate their nightly changes in their setlist, but they put up a garish picture of a retro dial phone during ‘6060-842.”

Schneider stepped out for a trio of songs on which Wilson and Pierson shared harmonies, as lightly as they seem to take a lot of what they do, they’re still serious about their vocals and sounded pretty good on a trip of “Deadbeat Club,” “Juliet of the Spirits” from their last studio album, released in 2008 (!), Funplex, and “Roam” the follow-up single to “Love Shack.”

A B-52s gig could include anything from those first two albums and rock out, and on this occasion the choices were “Party Out of Bounds” “Strobe Light” “Dance This Mess Around” and the inevitable “Rock Lobster,” which closed the show well after the Metro stopped running. It came with a dancing Lobster figure, a throwback to the days when a Pinhead would dance at the end of a Ramones set.

Though original drummer Keith Strickland, who turned guitarist when Ricky Wilson died in 1985, retains his band membership, he no longer tours with them, so Greg Suran, a kind of lookalike in his striped shirt, handles the spiky and twangy surf-tinged guitar.

The rhythm section for the touring band rhythm section is solid since 1992 (!) with drummer Sterling Campbell and bassist Tracy Wormworth (an original member of The Waitresses who toured with Sting). And adding the cheesy keyboard riffs that Pierson didn’t play was Ken Maiuri.

That the band was dominated by a twangy guitar sound set it apart from the opening bands, who relied so heavily on synthesizers there was no guitar whatsoever on stage for OMD – still a shocking thing to see from a rock band, particularly one from Liverpool.

IMG_0993-2Wearing all black, the classic OMD lineup was led by an overly-enthusiastic Andy McCluskey, 60, who got rid of his bass two songs in and bounced around the stage. Paul Humphreys and Martin Cooper were largely desk bound to their synths, though the former came down to sing lead on “(Forever) Live and Die” and the latter occasionally picked up a saxophone to play on “So in Love” and “If You Leave,” which might be their most popular song from its use in “Pretty in Pink,” whose Molly Ringwald was pictured prominent in the color-saturated video behind them.

There are more familiar songs from the band than you would imagine, thanks to their use in films and TV to set an 80s mood. The group had a way to create catchy melodies within the then-new realm of synth pop.

I’m still a bit put off by their opening song, though, “Enola Gay,” a bouncy song with a riff far too peppy to refer to the plane that dropped a bomb killing more than 100,000 in Hiroshima. Too soon, I say, despite the local connection they did not mention — the B-29 (thank goodness it wasn’t  B-52) is on display in Chantilly, Va.

But in many ways the crowd was more excited about OMD and its dance riffs than the headliners — was it only because of the synthesizer sound instead of the guitar? Or were they just a little younger and only responded most enthusiastically to the B-52’s later hits, particularly “Love Shack”?

IMG_0991Whatever it was, the opener on the 80s extravaganza was Berlin, the L.A. band with enough hits to fill a short set — but the only ones of the night to also have a new album of songs to play. Lead singer Terri Nunn still sounds the same, and looks younger than her 58, at least until she got on the shoulders of a security guard and wandered into the middle of the crowd and you could see her up close (and also take in the detailed glittery eye makeup).

They also have more hit songs than you’d remember, from the opening “No More Words” and “The Metro” to the slightly less saucy “Sex (I’m a…)” And “Take My Breath Away” from “Top Gun” is so well ingrained in the psyche, the crowd sang along to the whole thing.

With all these synth bands on hand, it was a little disappointing that none took time to remember a giant in the genre, Ric Ocasek of The Cars, who had died a couple of days earlier. Berlin had done “Drive” a night earlier, in a longer headlining gig in Pennsylvania.

They had been doing “Highway to Hell” as a closer on the tour for whatever reason, but switched in D.C. because they had a special guest — Thomas Dolby. With him, they didn’t do any of his songs, or even theirs, but instead, Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again.” Nor did he make the memorable exhortation from his biggest hit — the kind of fun detail the headliners would never have left out. Therefore, I shall utter it now: “Science!”

The setlist for The B-52’s Thursday was: 

  • “Private Idaho”
  • “Mesopotamia”
  • “Give Me Back My Man”
  • “6060-842”
  • “Whammy Kiss”
  • “Deadbeat Club”
  • “Juliet of the Spirits”
  • “Roam”
  • “Party Out of Bounds”
  • “Strobe Light”
  • “Dance This Mess Around”
  • “Love Shack”
  • “Planet Claire”
  • “Rock Lobster”

The setlist for Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark was: 

  • “Enola Gay”
  • “Secret”
  • “Tesla Girls”
  • “(Forever) Live and Die”
  • “If You Leave”
  • “Joan of Arc”
  • “Talking Loud and Clear”
  • “So In Love”
  • “Dreaming”
  • “Locomotion”
  • “Electricity”

The Berlin setlist was: 

  • “No More Words”
  • “The Metro”
  • “Masquerade”
  • “I Want You”
  • “Take My Breath Away”
  • “Transcendance”
  • “Sex (I’m a…)”
  • “Never Let Me Down Again”
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