For 35 years, The B-52s have lived and breathed quirky.
And that’s just the way fans want them.
Other bands might have abandoned their proclivities toward weirdness as they aged, but not the core four of Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Keith Strickland, who are now in their 50s and 60s.
From the opening “Wig,” which featured Schneider prancing around the stage, pointing at the crowd and yelping the lyric, “What’s that on your head?” (answer: lots of colorful bouffants for some) to Pierson’s out-of-water swimming moves during “Private Idaho,” it was clear that this band will always be most comfortable on Non-Conformity Street.
Four light towers, some blinking set pieces and a video screen with random images projected behind the B’s kept the stage party-ready. Schneider, in a tangerine suit and Pierson, in a form-fitting fuchsia dress and a mound of mahogany hair, brought splotches of color to the stage that were offset by Wilson’s black dress and Strickland’s dark suit.
Though the first couple of songs were brushed with irritating feedback and the double-punch of the relatively tuneless “Lava” from the band’s 1979 debut, and a strained “Give Me Back My Man” from 1980’s “Wild Planet,” were moments to endure rather than enjoy, the B’s soared during most of their 75-minute show. Strickland, in particular, seemed to enjoy rattling off a series of surf-rock licks that, combined with the band’s New Wave nuttiness, signifies their sound.
Pierson and Wilson were in perfect harmony all night, coating “Roam” – perhaps their most conventional song – and “52 Girls” with honeyed vocals presented with happy wiggles.
Most of the 3,200-plus crowd in the Fox Theatre looked like folks who had discovered the band during their Athens years, some of them now bringing grown kids of their own to experience one of pop music’s most unlikely hit-makers.
While the quartet – backed by Tracy Wormworth on bass, Paul Gordon on keys and guitar and Sterling Campbell on drums – played plenty from their early catalog, they also didn’t ignore their 2008 return to form, “Funplex.” Along with the gleefully nonsensical title track, the B’s also offered “Love in the Year 3000,” “Too Much to Think About” and “Hot Corner,” which Pierson introduced as, “A song about us in Athens.”
But of course it was the once-ubiquitous “Love Shack,” given a funky swing live, that had fists raised, ready to “bang, bang, bang on the door,” and the squiggly “Planet Claire” that had fans grooving hardest.
Given the band’s forever ties to Georgia – even though Wilson is the only one who still lives here – it wasn’t so much a surprise, but a, “Huh. Cool,” moment when Atlanta City Council member Michael Julian Bond came onstage to present the band members with a proclamation to honor their 35th anniversary.
“It’s been a long time since you guys were at that house across the street from the Taco Stand,” he said, referencing their formation in Athens. Bond then proclaimed July 21 as “B-52s Day” – a fitting tribute to a most memorable band.
Opening the show was the amusingly named Already Taken, a quintet of teens that happens to include Wilson’s two kids – India Bennett on bass and Nolan Bennett on drums.
But there is more than nepotism at work here. The group, fronted by singer Jack Haidet, whose clear, refreshingly Auto-Tune-free voice carries some decent heft, offered mature musical chops underneath their catchy pop-rock.
India, whose clipped, nasally voice drips with attitude, took the lead for a song and imbued lyrics such as “I’m tired of you, leave me a alone” with perfect dismissiveness.
Already Taken, which also includes Matt Haidet on keyboards and Mary Frances Kitchens on guitar, primarily play local concert series’ and private events, but displayed impressive poise in front of thousands of people in one of the nation’s grandest theaters.