The B52s (Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson) at Tanglewood (photo Seth Rogovoy)
Boston Pops Orchestra with Special Guest the B-52s
Saturday, September 2, 2016
Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(LENOX, Mass.) – In one of the odder and perhaps less successful pairings in a series of such performances, new-wave rock avatars the B-52s joined the Boston Pops Orchestra as “special guests” in a program on Saturday night that had a lot of concertgoers scratching their heads, but a larger number of fans cheering on the beloved guest act and dancing the mess around in spite of the queer spectacle. And, in the end, the B-52s, finally shed of the lumbering albatross of the Pops, played a couple of unadorned numbers that reminded aficionados of what a powerful, funky outfit this band could be.
Before what for many was the main act of the night, the nominal headliners, the Pops Orchestra, under the direction of the intrepid Keith Lockhart, played a 40-minute set of orchestral transcriptions of mostly 1980s hits by groups including U2 and the Bangles, mixed in with standard pops fare like the theme to “Star Wars” and other John Williams compositions. The orchestra also tried the patience and fierce integrity of rock purists with tributes to fallen rockers David Bowie and Prince, funk-, punk-, and rock-laden hits turned into gloppy, Muzak-like fare, with all the funk, punk, and rock stripped away.
Then again, this is the mission of the Pops, anyway, with whatever it does. And it has its fans. So be it.
When the B-52s joined the band after intermission, the first few numbers were scary. For a few minutes, I wasn’t even sure I could stay there to witness the tug of war between the rhythm-oriented music of the B-52s and the overinflated arrangements of the Pops. Unfortunately, the Pops won that tug of war for the most part, and rhythm-fueled hits such as “Love Shack,” “Roam,” and “Rock Lobster” instead chugged along, despite the best efforts of the band’s drummer and bassist, the latter whom couldn’t even be heard or felt, at least not in the Shed. (Perhaps the sound mix was better on the lawn? Someone tell me yes, please.)
Nevertheless, one did grow accustomed to the lack of a bottom, and the back seat the group’s guitar and rhythm section took to the Pops, and merely paid most attention to the vocalists, the front line whom remain the same from day one – Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson. At least they were terrific, sounded and looked great, were goofy, spacey, and funny as always, and fed by the enormous energy of a crowd that turned the Shed (almost) into CBGBs for a night.
After an encore with the orchestra of the B-52s/David Byrne collaboration, “Mesopotomia,” everyone left the stage. After a few minutes, the band alone returned. Having already played all of its hits, it was only able to offer two deep catalog tunes, but they did offer evidence that this band, unfettered, could still soar high and unload its payload on thousands of screaming fans.