Concert review: The B-52s celebrate 40 years in style with Atlanta Symphony

BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene

If you’re wondering how “Roam” sounds with brass, cellos and violas, the answer is – pretty awesome.

At the first of a two-night stand at Atlanta Symphony Hall on Thursday, Athens’ beloved quirk-rockers, The B-52s, joined with the Atlanta Symphony for a pair of 45-minute sets that paid tribute to the band’s 40-year history.

Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson get into “Planet Claire.” Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

The symphony, led by new assistant conductor Stephen Mulligan, didn’t participate on every tune, but when they did, it elevated The B-52s’ warmly weird songs to a level approaching sophistication.

Opener “Planet Claire” featured Kate Pierson wailing the backdrop of the surf-pop song, while Cindy Wilson tapped a set of congas and Fred Schneider, his nasally speak-sung vocals clipped for emphasis, bumped rear ends with standout bassist Tracy Wormworth.

Wormworth was among the band’s four core musicians who ably kept pace with the orchestra and, on songs such as “Mesopotamia” and the driving “Strobe Light,” provided the only musical backdrop.

Throughout The B-52s’ career, their harmonies – evident on “Private Idaho” – cemented their kaleidoscopic songs. That musical hallmark hasn’t deteriorated, even when the frontline trio embarked on a “serious” song – the patently ridiculous “Wig” (but what a hoot to watch Schneider pointing at symphony players while yelling, “What’s that on your head?”).

The juxtaposition of the formal ASO members and the “Cool Jerk”-ish visuals of the band remained an amusing sight:  the fire-maned Pierson in a sparkly dress; Wilson, a vision of frosty detachment in shades and a mile-high platinum wig; and Schneider in rock-star-styled tails.

Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson had the venue bopping with “Roam.” Photo: Robb Cohen Photography & Video /RobbsPhotos.com

The ladies took center stage for a lush, bright rendition of “Roam” – a highlight of the night – and joined with Schneider on the 1979 hookup hopeful, “6060-842” (“I can’t believe we’re doing this in front of the symphony!” Schneider joked), one of many songs that represented the band’s self-titled debut.

A too-long intermission of 30-minutes quashed the vibe so expertly cultivated by this renowned party band. But the second act mostly managed to reinvigorate the crowd (sold out for Friday), which stood throughout the show and danced unabashedly.

The B-52s’ kicked off with the title track from their “Love Shack”-spawning 1989 landmark, “Cosmic Thing,” sans orchestra but with spoken-word intro, and wedged in album favorites “Party Out of Bounds” (with Schneider donning a wig and sunglasses) and “Lava.”

While The B-52s remain active with solo projects and regular touring, who knows how much longer this mirror ball will keep spinning? But whenever it does stop, it will be with an appreciation for a band that will live on in rock history for its unfailing uniqueness.

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