The last time we were at The White Oak, it was for George Clinton/P-Funk and Fishbone show (tinyurl.com/zubfunky), and the security and check in at the venue were very cumbersome, slow, and user-unfriendly. Even arriving early, we missed the first Fishbone song due to gate-checking sluggishness. This time, things were even worse. We were able to park about 100 yards from the amphitheater entrance, but there was a ‘fun fair’ or ‘carnival’ in front surrounded by chain-link fence. We had to hike a mile, in a 90 degree parking lot, facing the sun, and then walk the carny gauntlet pass the milk bottle toss, ring toss, and whatnot. We also saw someone make the same trek...on crutches. By the time we got to our seats (after waiting in the long, single file line for the non-fire-code, uneven staircase) I was a sweaty, angry mess. The people at White Oak have absolutely no organization. We will think very hard before we go to another show at this rinky-dink, poorly designed and crowd-managed venue.
Luckily, there was time to recover, cool down, and try to get into a better mood. Berlin came on, and I wasn’t expecting much. They were surprisingly good and very energetic. Terri Nunn looked great and sang wonderfully, opening with the one-two punch of their well-known ‘No More Words’ and ‘The Metro,’ a baller move. Bassist/vocalist John Crawford (an original member) was also looking good and playing great. Guitarist David Diamond was a whirlwind of energy, and the synth player had all the vintage sounds nailed. Terri came way out in the stands to sing ‘Take My Breath Away,’ which was a real crowd pleaser. Being the first of three bands, Berlin only had eight songs. They closed out the set with ‘Sex (I’m A…)’ and a surprisingly good cover of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell.’ A good performance from an underrated band.
OMD, a synthpop duo from Liverpool, has always been one of my favorites. This was my first time seeing them, and it was a treat. Frontman/bassist Andy McClusky charged out on the opener ‘Enola Gay,’ and this was no dour men-looking-at-their-keyboards show. It was upbeat, powerful, and visual: McClusky was all over the stage all the time. During their twelve song set, they played many of their movie hits (‘Tesla Girls,’ ‘If You Leave’) and with the singing and keyboards of Paul Humphreys, OMD put on a terrific show.In addition to ‘Tesla Girls’ they played ‘Talking Loud And Clear’ from their Junk Culture LP. Humphreys synth patches were spot-on, just like the records. Stuart Kershaw was very strong on the drums, and Martin Cooper played amazing, real saxophone and extra keyboards. The four men, often three with Andy just singing and dancing, filled the amphitheater with sound. My personal highlight was ‘Joan Of Arc (Maid Of Orleans)’ from their iconic Architecture And Morality LP. This majestic tune, full of choral synth samples, military drumming, and Andy’s soaring vocal, made me tear up a bit, Andy mentioned they had not played in Greensboro for 34 years! He was an appreciative and engaging front man. They ended with a big surprise, ‘Electricity’ from their first run of singles. It was great to hear OMD and their energy and professionalism set the bar high.
Before the B-52’s set, they used the backdrop video on stage as their own TV channel. This was a nice touch, as they ran videos of Tom Tom Club, early R.E.M., Romeo Void, Devo, and our favorites Pylon! They had service announcements and videos for great places like Nuci’s Place in Athens, and they showed ‘Detroit Rock Lobster,’ a B-52’s v. KISS mash-up.
When they came on it was time for the party. They launched into ‘Private Idaho.’ Pixie Kate Pierson had a long red wig and a cool 60’s green fringe dress, while the very tall Cindy Wilson had a huge bouffant blond wig and a cool as hell silver dress with what appeared to be lizard/dinosaur ridges on the shoulders and sleeves. Party captain Fred Schneider looked cool without any crazy outfit. After the manic energy of OMD, it seemed fine, but a little draggy. They quickly picked it up with an inspired version of ‘Mesopotamia,’ including Cindy on the bongos. OK, this was not going to be an oldies show just going through the motions but the real B-52’s.
The B-52’s have a crack band, with ace bassist Tracy Wormwoth and drummer Sterling Campbell providing a superb rhythm section, Ken Maiuri holding down the keyboard station and second guitar, and the amazing Greg Suran spinning out those classic Ricky Wilson and Keith Strickland guitar parts. The band was second to none, and the sound was good throughout. Cindy absolutely killed the vocals on ‘Give Me Back My Man,’ practically turning it into a torch song. There were three of four newer songs (Including ‘Deadbeat Club’) when Fred was off stage, and Kate and Cindy didn’t really command the stage. Again, though, they picked it up with a beautiful version of ‘Roam’ (a real crowd favorite) and Fred came back for an insane, fun ‘Party Out Of Bounds.’ They ended the set with ‘Dance This Mess Around’ and ‘Love Shack.’ The encore featured a wild, wonderful ‘Planet Claire’ (Fred going crazy with a walkie talkie) and of course a stupendous ‘Rock Lobster,’ replacing the Yoko Ono part with a snippet of ‘Low Rider’ by War.
This was the B-52’s 40th Anniversary tour. They have been around a long time, but their body of work really stands up. They are still the world’s greatest party band. And, being from Athens originally, they are ours in the American south. Watch out for that Bikini Whale!