The B-52s Bring New Wave Back to Tanglewood

The B-52s (l-r) Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson (photo Pieter M Van Hattem)

The B-52s (l-r) Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson (photo Pieter M Van Hattem)

(LENOX, Mass.) – The summerlong party continues at Tanglewood on Friday, September 2, at 8pm, when new-wave avatars the B-52s are joined by Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops Orchestra for a trip back to the early 1980s, when the then-Athens, Ga.-based band ruled MTV with their creative videos for their danceable, space-rock hits including “Love Shack,” “Rock Lobster,” “Private Idaho,” and “Roam.” Thirty-five years later, the group still boasts the front line of founding vocalists Kate Pierson, Fred Schneider and Cindy Wilson.

Formed on an October night in 1976 following drinks at an Athens, Ga., Chinese restaurant, the band played their first gig at a friend’s house on Valentine’s Day 1977. Naming themselves after Southern slang for exaggerated “bouffant” hairdos, the newly christened B-52s (Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Keith Strickland, Cindy Wilson, and Ricky Wilson) began weekend road trips to New York City for gigs at CBGBs and a handful of other venues.

Before long, their thrift-store aesthetic and genre-defying songs were the talk of the post-punk underground. A record deal soon followed and their self-titled debut disc, produced by Chris Blackwell, sold more than 500,000 copies on the strength of their first singles, the garage rock party classic “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls.”

The B-52s began to attract fans far beyond the punk clubs of the East Village, galvanizing the pop world with their stream-of-consciousness approach to songwriting and outrageous performances. They had clearly tapped into a growing audience for new music that was much larger than anyone could have anticipated. “We always appealed to people outside the mainstream,” says Kate Pierson, “and I think more people feel they’re outside the mainstream these days.”

With the release of their second studio effort, “Wild Planet,” (1980), the B-52s and co-producer Rhett Davies proved their success was no fluke with hits with “Private Idaho,” “Give Me Back My Man” and “Strobe Light.” In just two albums, the B-52s created a lexicon of songs, styles, phrases, and images which would set the standard for the development of the alternative music scene for the next decade.

The success of “Mesopotamia,” produced by David Byrne (1982), and “Whammy!” (1983) positioned the B-52s as MTV regulars as well as alternative radio staples.

At the time of their greatest achievements, however, they suffered their greatest tragedy — the death of guitarist Ricky Wilson from AIDS. “He really had a vision…,” said sister Cindy Wilson. “He was one of the strongest elements of the B-52s from the beginning.” Ricky Wilson’s passing in 1985 came just after the sessions for “Bouncing Off the Satellites” (1986). The album, dedicated to Wilson, had taken nearly three years to complete but was worth the wait, serving up the fan favorites “Summer of Love” and “Wig.”

After a period of mourning, Keith Strickland, switching from drums to guitar, gradually resumed writing music for a new album. Working together on vocal melodies, lyrics and arrangements for the new tracks, Keith, Kate, Fred, and Cindy re-emerged with the Don Was/Nile Rodgers co-produced “Cosmic Thing” (1989). The album proved to be the greatest commercial achievement for the group, and its success propelled the band to international superstars.

The B-52s (l-r) Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson (photo Pieter M Van Hattem)

The B-52s (l-r) Cindy Wilson, Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson (photo Pieter M Van Hattem)

“Cosmic Thing” soared to the top of the Billboard Album chart, sold five million copies and yielded their first-ever Top 10 hits — “Love Shack” and “Roam.” and a Top 40 hit with “Deadbeat Club.” The B-52s advanced their reputation as the greatest party band on the planet to a whole new generation of music fans. They played to sold-out audience worldwide on a tour that would last more than 18 months, including an Earth Day gig before nearly 750,000 people in New York City’s Central Park.

Soon after, Cindy Wilson amicably departed. “I’d been a B-52 for a long time, and it just felt like time for a change,” said Cindy. Before long, Wilson had successfully completed her first solo project — a baby girl. Meanwhile, Kate collaborated with other artists, including Athens compatriots R.E.M., for whom she guest-starred on their 1991 album “Out of Time.” She also scored a hit with fellow CBGBs alum Iggy Pop on the lovelorn duet “Candy.” Fred, meanwhile started work on a solo project, “Just Fred” (1996), with producer Steve Albini, his second solo project since the release of 1984’s “Fred Schneider and the Shake Society.”

As a trio, Fred, Keith, and Kate re-enlisted the tag team of Was and Rodgers to produce the energetic “Good Stuff” (1992). With its popular title cut and concert favorite “Is That You Mo-Dean?,” Good Stuff is more than just a worthy follow-up to “Cosmic Thing” – the album stands as the group’s most overtly political album. “We’re out there to entertain people,” said Fred, “but it’s great to get people thinking and dancing at the same time.”

Reuniting permanently with Cindy Wilson, the B-52s wrote and recorded two new tracks that fit perfectly into “Time Capsule,” a 1998 stellar collection of hits. The first single from the Best of collection, “Debbie.” is a metaphorical tribute to band friend and supporter Debbie Harry and the whole CBGBs scene of the late 1970s.

With the release of the two-disc collection “Nude on the Moon: the B-52s Anthology” (2002), the B-52s took much-deserved credit for a body of work that is unique, beloved and timeless in its own way. The B-52s influence cuts a wide path through much of modern rock — from the low-fi efforts of nouveau garage bands to the retro-hip of ultra-lounge, to the very core of dance music itself. “We just did our own thing, which was a combination of rock ‘n’ roll, funk, and Fellini, and game show host, and corn, and mysticism,” says Fred.

In 2008, the B-52s released their first new album in 16 years, the aptly titled “Funplex.” With its primal guitar hooks, driving drums and the B-52s’ unmistakable vocal style, “Funplex” was  instantly recognizable as quintessential and contemporary B-52s. Newsweek Magazine declared, “Like a sonic shot of vitamin B12, the dance floor beats, fuzzy guitar riffs and happy, shiny lyrics keep the energy going.”

On February 18, 2011, the band celebrated its 34th anniversary with a triumphant return to their hometown of Athens, Ga. Wig-wearing, boa-draped, glitter-covered fans came from near and far to celebrate this historic event, which saw the band deliver a sizzling 90-minute set that turned Athens’ Classic Center into a cosmic dancehall. The concert was released on CD, DVD and Blu-ray, titled “The B-52s with the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA.” In a review of the CD, Chuck Howard from Scripps Howard News Service proclaimed, “How The B-52’s have maintained their endearing vitality after all these years is a wonder, yet fans who hear ‘With the Wild Crowd!’ will doubtless wish immortality on this uplifting band.”

In January 2013, Keith Strickland announced that he had made a decision to stop touring with the band. In a statement he said, “I will continue to be in The B-52s – I will just not tour. My barnstorming days have come to an end, but I wholeheartedly support Cindy, Fred and Kate’s decision to continue.”

Most recently, in April 2015, the band rewarded their longtime fans with a rare gem: a digital release of a special early show from August 1979. They noted, “We opened for the Talking Heads at the Berklee Center in Boston just six weeks after our first record was released. We were a little scared of the audience so we kept our heads down and focused – and we danced like mad when there was a break! Ricky was so fierce on the guitar – so intense – it was all so raw and live and we loved it.”

As they take their party-music revolution into the 21st century, the B-52s show no signs of slowing down, serving up their own unique blend of music and showmanship to millions of fans around the world.


Come early to start the party with an ‘80s DJ and Dance Party Pre-concert

Receive a $10 food coupon if you’re dressed in your best ‘80s outfit. Prizes awarded for best dressed.

Musical Scavenger Hunt 5:30 to 7:00pm. Suggested for ages 8 – 12, Scavenger Hunt begins and ends at the Tanglewood Visitors Center. Prizes include a Tanglewood backpack for all participants, at the conclusion of the hunt.






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