Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The B-52s concert review: Costa Mesa, Calif.

photo: Miguel Vasconcellos/OC Fair
The B-52s have been a mainstay at the Pacific Amphitheatre for years, so another appearance as part of the Orange County Fair’s Summer Concert Series initially seemed routine.

Yet this time the billing revealed a special addition - The Pacific Symphony.

Two years ago, the veteran Georgia new wave/post-punk band did a few songs backed by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra and were apparently so pleased with the results that the concept was expanded.

Since then, the B-52s have also done it selectively elsewhere. Singer Kate Pierson recently told an interviewer she thought the group’s late 1970s and early ‘80s material worked especially well with the new treatment because the original recorded instrumentation was sparse.

But the big question leading up to the O.C. gig was whether it would come across like a train wreck. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case here. Pierson and co-vocalist Cindy Wilson’s trademark wails easily towered above it all.

Before show time on Thursday night, I spotted a smattering of fans who obviously decked themselves out just for the occasion: one woman in the front row had a beehive hairstyle, while other people wore glittery or electric shirts and pants.

Playing to a large crowd comprised of many LGBT couples, the B-52s opened their 95-minute show in Costa Mesa with the frenetic title track to 1989’s “Cosmic Thing.” Fans immediately stood up and danced right along. Then politically astute singer Fred Schneider voiced his approval of somebody’s Planned Parenthood t-shirt.

An exciting take on “Whammy Kiss” was an early highlight, while the delightful “Summer of Love” was a rare concert treat (until now, the song - taken from 1986’s “Bouncing Off the Satellites” - hasn’t been played regularly in 18 years. Later, the humorous “Wig,” another semi-obscure song from the same underrated album, caused one guy near me to exclaim, “I think I can die now.”

Pierson and Wilson (the latter sporting a blonde beehive, sunglasses, a Geisha-type dress and waving a fan around) gave their high vocal ranges a good workout during the eerie “52 Girls.” The band closed the first segment with the frantic exuberance of “Strobe Light.”

Following an intermission, the B-52s returned for another 45-minute segment with the Pacific Symphony conducted by Roger Kalia. First came “Planet Claire.” The orchestra’s brass and string sections paired well with the song’s sci-fi, synth-dominated sound and built to a fine crescendo.

Sweeping violins added intensity and dramatic heft to the usual sonic maelstrom of “Private Idaho,” while “Roam” suddenly had a grander texture. The orchestra’s sprightly accents amid “Love in the Year 3000 were welcome; the string section’s dominance during a vibrant “Love Shack” was a pleasant surprise (one female violinist seemed to be having the most fun among her fellow musicians by mouthing along to the lyrics).

Finally, the full classical version of typical concert closer “Rock Lobster” brought the tune’s anxious tension to dizzying heights.

Next: 8 p.m. Aug. 12, Pershing Square, Downtown Stage, 532 S. Olive St., Los Angeles, free,

A version of my review originally appeared at

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