The B-52s perform at The Anthem on Sept. 17, 2019. (Photos by Jason Nicholson; Words by Mickey McCarter)
“Forty years ago, we used to stay up all night and drink coffee to make big plans about the future,” said Kate Pierson of The B-52s. “We called ourselves the Deadbeat Club.” With that, the band launched into the song bearing the title “Deadbeat Club” from 1989’s Cosmic Thing in the middle of their concert at The Anthem recently.
Touring on a 40th band anniversary, which coincides with Cosmic Thing’s 30th anniversary, The B-52s could have stuck to that sunny album of earworms and pleased the bustling crowd at The Anthem. But delightfully, The B-52s took the opportunity to celebrate their entire career with the anniversary show, and played selections both familiar and quirky from across six of their seven studio albums.
Joined by openers Berlin, the California new wave collective, and English synthpop quartet Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The B-52s tour proved consistently entertainingly and downright beguiling while turning The Anthem into a nonstop dance party.
In an example of the unexpected, The B-52s played “Juliet of the Spirits” at the midpoint of the show on Sept. 17, drawing one song from their 2008 last album, Funplex. Kate and Cindy Wilson harmonized nicely and danced in synch to the pleasing track while touring drummer Sterling Campbell hammered forward the percussion-driven frolic.
Stream the 30th anniversary expanded edition of Cosmic Thing by The B-52s on Spotify:
The latter half of The B-52s’ set of course centered around Cosmic Thing, as the band soon picked up the forever welcome “Roam” and closed their main set on the indelible “Love Shack.” Kate, Cindy, and B-52s frontman Fred Schneider were in high spirits, and Fred would wander on and off the stage to amuse himself or others, stopping to introduce a song with “This is another one of our famous power ballads!” (which would of course be ridiculous) or taking the vocals on some of the other lively and diverting songs.
Fred reappeared late in the set in a wig and glasses, for example, for “Party Out of Bounds,” one of four songs plucked from Wild Planet, which also supplied “Private Idaho” to open the show. Whenever Fred’s distinctive voice filled the air, you immediately imagined the antics of their timeless music videos and Fred’s deadpan expressions and wild stare.
This remained true in the encore, as The B-52s saluted their self-titled debut album, released 40 years ago after all, with “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster.” Both songs sprang out of the band as fun-packed delirium, packaged for the audience to consume and metabolize.
The B-52s alone would have won the day with their giddy tunes and singalong lyrics, but the core trio chose wisely when inviting openers, making the entire concert a dancefloor-ready celebration of the 1980s. First on the bill was Berlin, the California band fronted by the lovely Terri Nunn. Terri has a sexy, declarative voice, and she takes no prisoners when singing. In the ’80s, Terri released three albums in the classic configuration of the band, which included John Crawford and David Diamond.
Terri made three more albums with a new Berlin band, but John and David recently returned to the fold, and together the combined band released Transcendance, a new album, in August. Berlin played eight songs with John on bass and David on guitar, and that short set was chock full of highlights, including two songs from the new record — “I Want You” and the title track.
The audience went most wild, however, for Berlin’s best-known tune — “Take My Breath Away,” the love theme from the movie Top Gun. For the number, Terri hopped onto the shoulders of a strong bouncer, who waded into the audience as Terri sang to the people around her. It was a powerful performance that was named as the top moment in the set if not the show by everyone who shared notes with me.
Berlin closed their show with a big surprise — not just by covering “Never Let Me Down Again” by Depeche Mode but inviting their friend Thomas Dolby, who visited from nearby Baltimore, to share vocal duties on the song. The crowd then absolutely lost their minds, although Terri and Thomas turned the song into a literal song and dance number. They couldn’t stop beaming at the opportunity to share the stage, and in the end you could only surrender and enjoy yourself as much as they.
Read our Parklife DC interview with Terri Nunn of Berlin
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) know how to work an audience, and OMD frontman Andy McCluskey used the full space of The Anthem’s stage to engage the crowd and demonstrate his awkward windmill dancing. DC loves OMD, and the crowd loved them hard for the 12 songs they performed with fervor on Tuesday.
I don’t recall having seen OMD perform to video visuals previously, and so it was something of a surprise to me when they presented the iconic tune “If You Leave” from the movie Pretty in Pink halfway through the set, and clips of Molly Ringwald from the film filled the screen behind them. Well done, video designers!
Through “If You Leave” and other numbers, Andy spiraled along the front of the stage, spreading his arms and projecting the songs. Toward the end of the set, he invited everyone in the house to dance along to “Locomotion” from Junk Culture, an album that contributed three of the 12 songs to the set. “You’re going to regret that answer!” Andy asserted when the crowd squealed in agreement, and he bounded off across the apron. Suitably impressed with the jumping in place for the tune, Andy “hired” everyone to come to Philadelphia to do it all again in the next show.
OMD closed with the exhilarating “Electricity,” as they always do in the United States, reminding the room that OMD and Berlin also were celebrating 40th anniversaries alongside The B-52s. Andy swirled to the micstand with his bass while drummer Stuart Kershaw knocked melodically on the drums behind him. Andy and Stuart were flanked by keyboardist Martin Cooper on their right and OMD co-founder Paul Humphreys on the left. Although Paul let Andy do the vast majority of the talking, he did take lead vocals for two fan-favorite numbers in the first half of the show — “Secret” from 1985’s Crush and “(Forever) Live and Die” from 1986’s The Pacific Age.
Read a Parklife DC review of an OMD headlining show in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Aug. 31
With three powerful bands presenting their best songs, The Anthem was absolutely intoxicated. Revelers danced unabashedly to their favorite new wave selections, and the bands gratefully basked in the response. Led by The B-52s, this bill represented an ’80s pop radio enthusiast’s dream come true. It was impossible not to thoroughly enjoy yourself.
The B-52s USA tour winds down on Sept. 24 in New York, but the Athens post-punks have a spate of dates across the country later this month. Consult their website for info. And rumors suggest that OMD may return to our area next summer for a headlining tour, and we hope similarly Berlin decide to tour again soon to revisit DC.
Here are some pictures of Berlin performing at The Anthem on Sept. 17. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.
Here are some pictures of OMD performing at The Anthem on Sept. 17. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.
Here are some pictures of The B-52s performing at The Anthem on Sept. 17. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.