In the late ’90s, one of my high-school friends returned from an outdoor Metallica concert with tales of the band taking the stage to “Creeping Death” with a raging lightning storm as the backdrop. I remember him stammering as he tried describing it to me the next day. “It was totally badass,” he whispered, eyes gleaming—from underneath spiky hair with frosted tips and a sideways yellow visor, no less.
I kept thinking about his story as I made my way into the Charlottesville Pavilion, an outdoor venue capped by a large tent designed to ward off the weather. Thunder was exploding around us as we waited for the concert to start, and, instead of enhancing the show with some kind of poetic aptitude, the stormy weather just made us feel miserable.
I’ve seen it work before—the soggy outdoor concert packed with diehards too excited to care—but that wasn’t the case this time. I’m not sure whether it was waiting an hour for the storm to pass or watching the roadies repeatedly squeegee the stage, but something totally killed the mood.
The show finally started with an opening performance from an abysmal ’70s-funk revival troupe called Groove Train. In an attempt to shoo away the overhanging clouds of gloom, the group actually had the audacity to pull out “Celebration” by KC and the Sunshine Band at the top of their set, followed by “I Will Survive”. I only kept watching in hopes that the wind would tear off one of their Afro wigs.
You’d expect that the same anticipation could apply to the B-52’s, what with the girth of the hairstyle from which they drew their name, but when they finally took to the stage, there was nary a beehive in sight. The poor fan who donned one for the occasion must have felt pretty stupid. If the band’s hair was quite sane by 2007 standards, their moves were still outlandish: frontman Fred Schneider seems to have decided to split the difference between Screech and Carlton, displaying kinetics that threatened to degenerate at any moment into snorkel dancing or walking like an Egyptian.
Schneider has been getting short shrift for decades, and it’s time we finally gave him his due: he is, without a doubt, the whitest rapper ever. A sort of Pat Boone for New Wave, he yaps on about shellfish with the same inept rhyme scheme your eighth-grade science teacher used when he decided that a rap would be a cool way to teach the kids about plate tectonics.
Kate Pierson, on the other hand, has aged well, and her voice filled the amphitheater without even the slightest of hiccups. The songs on which she shared lead duties with Cindy Wilson were a welcome change of pace: “Roam” went over every bit as well as you’d expect, and the best parts of “Give Me Back My Man” recalled Fleetwood Mac at their most furious.
On most songs, though, Schneider popped in every other line or two, just in time to make the overall experience intolerable. Kitsch is fine to a degree, but a whole set’s worth can be a bit much. The B-52’s are probably best enjoyed as the occasional flashback on a shuffled playlist, not as a 90-minute sensory binge. The previous night, they’d performed a few miles out beyond the city limits at Camp Jeep, a private annual event designed to promote bonding between SUV owners. Anyone who attended both shows must have irreparably overdosed.
As for me, midway in and compelled by my utter inability to give a damn, I got up and walked over to get a hamburger. This was a first for me; having spent a considerable portion of my adolescence in mosh pits, I never thought I’d see the day when I’d give in to the notion of concessions at a rock show (though I’ll admit that I can only use the term ‘rock’ loosely here).
After “Rock Lobster” brought the show to a close, I began to head back to my apartment. A nearby shop owner opened the door to his salon and jokingly caterwauled “Love shack, baby!” at the streams of passers-by leaving the show. Enthusiasm obviously ran high among area fortysomethings; back in 1982, 35 bucks was a lot of money, but the B-52’s were still impressive enough to command those sorts of prices.
My, how times have changed. It may be a little unrealistic to hold them to the same artistic standards as a band from this side of the Y2K divide, but despite my tremendous appetite for absurdity, watching the B-52’s in the middle of the pouring rain is one of the most depressing things I can possibly imagine—followed closely, perhaps, by dumpster diving for dorm furniture with Tag Team and trying to help Dr. Phil score some weed.
I guess it could be worse. At least I didn’t have to share my hamburger with David Hasselhoff.