The B-52s and Berlin, Wolf Trap, Vienna, Virginia, USA, June 5, 2015
The B-52s and Berlin. Boy, does this pairing bring back a lot of good memories. The B-52s are known as the ultimate dance party band…. and having gone to high school in the late 70s, and university in the early 80s… I know this to be true. Back in the day, you couldn’t go to a party without someone putting on a B-52s album and rocking out to “Rock Lobster” or “Quiche Lorraine”. Berlin was another of my favorite bands from the 80s. They were completely outside the genre I usually listen to… as I mostly listened to hard rock or metal. Music that relied heavily on an “electronic” sound was my least favorite genre… but for whatever reason, I fell in love with Berlin, and I was always proud to admit they were my “guilty pleasure”. The show was at the Wolf Trap Farm Park, in Vienna, Virginia. Wolf Trap is arguably one of the most beautiful concert venues in the US. It is a large covered outdoor pavilion nestled in the woods. The structure itself is stunningly beautiful with incredible woodwork. The acoustics are phenomenal. Except for the long drive, I always love going to shows there!
Berlin was the opening act. Now, when you mention Berlin these days, most people immediately recognize them as “that 80s group that did the “Top Gun” song (“Take My Breath Away”)”. Is this the same band? Well…Yes… and No… Berlin was primarily an 80s electronic rock band fronted by the charismatic Terri Nunn. In addition to playing high tempo electronic rock, the band was, indeed, responsible for the song “Take My Breath Away”. The song, though, was not typical of their music and was actually written… not by them… but for them by Georgio Moroder. Despite being their biggest hit, the song caused tremendous strife within the band as many of the members didn’t like it… and… long story short… the band fell apart and was completely disbanded by the late 80s. The Berlin we have today is essentially Berlin 2.0. The band was reformed by Terri Nunn with all new members in 1999 and, although they remain true to their electronic roots, they came back with a noticeably heavier, edgier, and harder rock sound. They have been active since their reformation and have release two EPs, two live albums, a DVD, a cover album, and two full length albums of new material. They tour regularly and I have seen the “new” Berlin twice since they reformed. I’m an even bigger fan now that they have that heavier edge!
Berlin began the show with their older classics, including “No More Words”, “The Metro”, and “Masquerade”. They only played two new original songs in their set: “Mom” and “Animal”… both from their 2013 release, “Animal”. I was quite disappointed that they did not play any songs from my favorite album, 2002’s “Voyeur”. Six songs into the set, 20 audience members were invited onstage to make fools of themselves… uh… I mean… dance with the band during the song “Dancing in Berlin”. This is a common occurrence at Berlin shows so I was ready for it. And… Yes… I was one of those audience members…. and NO…. you can’t see pictures! The main set ended with the Berlin classic “Sex”. The first encore was the infamous “Take My Breath Away”. I never really like that song either, but Terri does sing it well. She walked through the large audience during the song for some close up time with the audience members toward the back. The final song was a heavy version of the Jefferson Airplane song, “Somebody to Love”. I first heard Berlin perform this song on their live album, “All the Way In”, and it has been my favorite version of the song ever since.
Berlin put on a great show! Terri’s vocals were in top form and the music was great. The audience responded in kind with lots of dancing and singing along! The band’s long time drummer and keyboardist (Chris Olivas and Dave Schultz) were present, but their long time guitarist, Carlton Bost, was not. I don’t know if the guitarist at the show was a replacement of a “fill in”, and they gave no explanation for Carlton’s absence. He is still listed as their guitarist on the website though. I was disappointed in the length of the set (9 songs). Berlin has been the headliner every time I’ve seen them in the past, so I’ve gotten spoiled with longer sets. Hopefully, a headlining tour will be coming soon!
The B-52s were up next, and after 40 years in the business of making music, they can still put on a great high energy show. The three vocalists, Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson, and Kate Pierson held the center stage with lots of crazy antics, while the remainder of the musicians held mostly to the background. They gave us an energetic 16 song show that began with “Pump”, “Mesopotamia”, and one of my personal favorites, “Private Idaho”. The craziness continued from there with “Lava”, “Dance This Mess Around”, and “The Girl From Ipanema goes to Greenland”. The one thing that really surprised me about this show was the audience. The last time I saw the B-52s was about 10 years ago and the audience was absolutely crazy. They spent the entire show jumping, singing, and dancing. Well.. what a difference a decade makes. Despite all of the onstage energy, over 90% of the audience remained seated for the majority of the show. Even when the band played “Roam”, one of their biggest video hits from the 80s… the audience remained sedentary! How someone that is a fan of this band’s music can sit still during the show is just crazy.. maybe they were sleeping??
Despite the lack of audience energy, the B-52s continued to give it all on the stage. Additional songs in the main set included “Legal Tender”, Party Out of Bounds”, “Love In the Year 3000”, “Is That You Mo-Dean?”, “6060-842”, and “Whammy Kiss”. The final song of the main set was the ever popular “Love Shack” and… finally!… Finally!… the audience got to their feet, and… probably because they saved it up… they seemed to find the energy to stay standing for the rest of the show! The encores began with another one of my favorites; the otherworldly, “Planet Claire”. The final song, as expected, was the ever crazy classic, beloved favorite of crustaceans everywhere… “Rock Lobster”! I was a little disappointed that they didn’t play “Quiche Lorraine”, but it was , overall, quite a comprehensive set!
The B-52s still have what it takes to put on an awesome concert after 4 decades. My only disappointment of the night had nothing to do with the band, but with the audience. I’ve been a fan of this band most of my life and I spent almost the entire show on my feet. But it is a little disappointing when the people around you at a concert don’t seem to be on your same energy level.. but, I did have a few kindred spirits near me that also stayed on their feet and danced. I felt guilty at times because I knew I was blocking the people behind me… but not so guilty I was going to sit down! They could stand up if they wanted! Oh well… I still had a great time!