Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson of the B52s celebrated the Fireworks Finale at the Hollywood Bowl.
It is a remarkable feat for any two rock bands to fill one night at the Hollywood Bowl, which has a capacity of over 17,000 seats, much less a total of three-consecutive nights. Especially when the two groups have not had a new recording in several years and have been in the music business for almost 40. This feat was accomplished the weekend of Sept. 11, 12 and 13 by the iconoclastic American party band the B-52s with special guests, the Psychedelic Furs, who hail from England.
First on the bill were “the Furs,” who began in England’s punk scene back in 1977. Headed by brothers Richard Butler (vocals) and Tim Butler (bass), the band started with their hit “Love My Way” to be later joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra headed by conductor Thomas Wilkins on “Only You And I,” which got Richard Butler’s vocals warned up. This was followed by another of their hits “Heartbreak Beat,” featuring some great sax work by Mars Williams that gave the song a jazzy feel.
The remainder of the set had the band playing solo or backed by the Hollywood Bowl orchestra and included most of their remaining hits such as “The Ghost in You”, “Heaven” and probably their most famous, “Pretty in Pink,” the title track for director John Hughes’ 1986 film.
Backed by a talented group of musicians that also included the awesome Rich Good on guitar, Amanda Kramer on keyboards and Paul Garisto on drums, frontman Richard Butler was able to recreate the energy and style of the Furs’ early years. His seasoned vocals and stage manners were in fine form as he transported the almost sold-out house back to the glorious 1980s.
After intermission it was time for the out of this world and ultimate party band the B-52s who ‘came out’ during the late-1970s punk scene and hail from Athens, Ga., just like their fellow rock icons R.E.M. When I say ‘came out,’ I was also was referring to the fact that four out of the five original members eventually came out as gay and include Fred Schneider (vocals, percussion, keyboards), Keith Strickland who was not part of this tour (drums, guitars, keyboards, synthesizers, various other instruments), the late Ricky Wilson (guitars, bass) and Kate Pierson (organ, keyboards, bass, vocals) who just married her longtime girlfriend Monica Coleman in early August. Cindy Wilson (vocals, bongos, tambourine), sister to Ricky, is the only straight original member.
Backing Schneider, Wilson and Pierson on stage was an outstanding band made up of Sterling Campbell (drums), Paul Gordon (keyboards), Greg Suran (guitar) and the statuesque Tracy Wormworth (bass). They would be joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and maestro Wilkins only during the last part of the program for the Fireworks Finale.
Starting the set was the song “Pump” followed by “Mesopotamia,” featuring Wilson on bongos and segueing into one of their early big hits “My Own Private Idaho,” which really got the capacity crowd on their feet dancing. The next songs, “Lava” and “Dance This Mess Around,” came from their 1979 self-titled debut recording and are fine examples of their quirky, punkish early sound.
“Girl From Ipanema Goes to Greenland” featured Wilson on vocals. She, along with Kate Pierson, are two of the finest female vocalists in rock, and it was on full display during “Roam,” a song nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the 1991 Grammy Awards.
By this time in the concert, just about everyone was out of their seats dancing to “Party Out of Bounds,” “Love in the Year 3000” and my personal favorite, “Strobe Light,” which featured the indelible vocals of Schneider. He sang, “I’m gonna kiss your eyes, then I’m gonna kiss your neck. Then I’m gonna kiss your tummy. Then I’m gonna kiss your pineapple,” with ‘pineapple’ substituted by ‘Hollywood Bowl,’ which got the crowd bursting into laughter.
After a long standing ovation, the B-52s were joined by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra for three big encore hits: “Planet Claire”, “Love Shack” and their most popular song, “Rock Lobster.” All were highlighted (pun intended) by the Fireworks Spectacular.
An interesting anecdote about “Rock Lobster” and the B-52s fans is that, in 1980 the late John Lennon heard the song while on vacation and quickly recognized the influence of his wife Yoko Ono on the recording, especially the quirky vocal sounds. This inspired Lennon to go back to the studio after a five-year hiatus to record the legendary Double Fantasy album along with his wife Ono, proving that the B-52s’ fan base runs the gamut, from the famous to the mostly ‘ordinary’ people who filled three-consecutive nights at the historic Hollywood Bowl.