If you head to a B-52s concert with intentions other than partying and dancing, don’t even bother and just stay home.
Still on a 40th anniversary tour to commemorate the release of their self-titled debut - last year’s road show celebrated their first single, 1978’s “Rock Lobster,” the closer at Saturday’s gig – the frontline of Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson can still produce a performance laden with camp and quirk.
For this lengthy run, which began and June and wraps at the end of September, The B-52s enlisted ‘80s-era synth veterans Berlin and OMD to open the night – ideal additions who provided their own trove of hits.
But the headliners at a nearly full Cadence Bank Amphitheatre at Chastain Park instantly captivated the restless crowd, first with a cool video montage of a career stocked with beehive wigs and cowbells and then with the singalong “Private Idaho.”
Backed, as they have been for many years, by bassist Tracy Wormworth, drummer Sterling Campbell, guitarist Greg Suran and relative newcomer, keyboardist Ken Maiuri, The B-52s sounded musically taut as they rolled through the goofy fun of “Mesopotamia” and “Give Me Back My Man,” with Schneider tapping on his trusty glockenspiel.
So much of The B-52s’ vibe is drenched in color, so it was hardly surprising to see Wilson and Pierson in their trademark blonde and auburn bouffants, respectively, and Schneider prowling the stage in a lime green shirt with a front that looked like remnants of a mirror ball.
The band hopscotched through its lengthy musical history, dropping 1989’s “Channel Z” and 2008’s “Funplex” into their 14-song set. But after the album tracks “Deadbeat Club,” a paean to their Athens roots from 1989’s commercial breakthrough, “Cosmic Thing” and “Juliet of the Spirits” from “Funplex,” the opening guitar riff of “Roam” produced a wave of giddy excitement from a crowd.
Wilson and Pierson’s harmonies blended with sunshine on the perky pop song, which gave fans an opportunity to sing along heartily until the immortal Atlanta-name-dropping “Love Shack” a few tunes later.
The B-52s have hinted that their lengthy touring days might be in sunset mode, but in the present, they still possess plenty of spirit.
First onstage Saturday night was Berlin, the synth-poppers fronted by the ageless Terri Nunn, who was also joined by original members (and co-founders) John Crawford (bass) and Dave Diamond (guitar).
With an opening salvo of fan favorites “No More Words,” “The Metro” and “Masquerade,” Berlin instantly reminded that they were also a tad underrated throughout their career.
Nunn, whose voice was clear and robust with a slight hint of rasp when necessary, has effortlessly retained her cool chick vibe – yes, she still has a streak of black in her platinum hair – and is able to bring as much conviction to a new song about meaningless sex (“I Want You”) as she does Berlin’s most evoked song, the “Top Gun” ballad, “Take My Breath Away.”
On Saturday, she began the song a capella, holding out the microphone for the audience to join before the synths and drums kicked in, and then waltzed through the crowd to give fans a worthy video to post on Facebook.
Frankly, it’s always been Berlin’s most cloying song, and even on this night, the polished rock ballad “Transcendence,” from their new album of the same name, better proved the band’s talent for writing intoxicating New Wave-pop.
Following Berlin was OMD, the darling duo of bassist/singer Andy McCluskey and keyboardist/singer Paul Humphreys.
Though they only achieved Top 10 success in the U.S. once – with the perfect melodic tinkles of “If You Leave” from John Hughes’ classic, “Pretty in Pink” – the English band technically known as Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark maintained a stranglehold on their native charts for most of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Fortunately, plenty of (older) MTV fans and (current) SiriusXM 1st Wave listeners are deeply familiar with OMD’s parade of mellifluous pop songs.
“Enola Gay,” “Secret” and “Tesla Girls” kicked off their set, and the effervescent McCluskey easily prompted the crowd to dance and clap along with his energetic dance moves. How this guy hasn’t endured Tommy John surgery given his penchant for twisting and locking his elbows as part of his, well, unique moves, is a mystery.
But while McCluskey spends plenty of time in the spotlight, he also happily ceded it to his musical partner, Humphreys, whom he jokingly (?) introduced as the winner of the 1979 New Musical Express Thinking Woman’s Synth Player award.
The shyer Humphreys demonstrated his voice is in as smooth and sturdy shape as McCluskey’s when he took the front of the stage and lead vocals for the intoxicating swing of “(Forever) Live and Die.”
The duo was joined by keyboardist Martin Cooper – a member since 1980 who also handled the deft sax solo on “If You Leave” and – and drummer Stuart Kershaw.
OMD saved arguably two of their most underappreciated songs for later in the set – “So in Love,” with its driving keyboards and falsetto work from McCluskey, and “Dreaming,” one of those songs that is probably too catchy for its own good.
By the end of their peppy set, those in the crowd who haven’t caught OMD in concert before were undoubtedly thankful for the opportunity.
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