By: Kevin Rolfe
When I saw that Berlin, OMD, and the B-52’s were going to tour together to celebrate the B-52’s 40th anniversary I was really excited. I also thought this was such a random collection of great bands from the 80s. Being from the same decade is really where their similarities stop. But maybe that was enough because the show at Red Butte Garden Amphitheater totally worked! It was one of my favorite concerts of the whole summer.
Berlin started things off in the heat with a short but blistering set. They blazed through hits like “No More Words” (My favorite Berlin song), and “Metro”. The Red Butte crowd wasn’t going to let Berlin leave until they performed their #1 hit from the Top Gun soundtrack, “Take My Breath Away”. Now pair that song with B-52’s “Rock Lobster”. It doesn’t seem like the right fit, but as I said, this show totally worked. When you throw in some great music, a little nostalgia, and this show was the perfect musical cocktail. Berlin then performed what I thought was going to be their set closer with “Sex (I’m a…) a song considered to be really racy when it came out. That song may have come out a while ago, but there was still some major steam in the performance. Their actual set closer was a cover of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell”. I have to admit that I was skeptical when this song started. But Terri Nunn’s vocals sounded great in this song. I was again surprised by something I didn’t think would work and yet it was a huge crowd-pleaser.
Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark, or OMD is one of my favorite bands. I don’t really love seeing them when they’re not the headliner. Especially when they can play to their own crowds of this size. But if they’re stopping through town, I’m going to see them! As the roadies were finishing up their set up I could hear “Neon Lights” being played through the PA. “Neon Lights” is a Kraftwork song that OMD covered back in 1991. When I heard this I knew it was only a few minutes to go before OMD was taking the stage. Sure enough, Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphries were joined on stage by Marin Cooper and Stuart Kershaw. I was pleasantly surprised to see about 80% of the crowd standing up. OMD wasn’t the headliner and the sun was still out and let’s be honest, Red Butte crowds can be awesome, but if they’re not ready to stand, they’re not going to.
Lead singer Andy McCluskey addressed the crowd by saying “Hello again. We’ve come home!” The audience loved hearing that. OMD has stated in the past how much they love coming to Utah because Utah is known throughout the music industry for loving Electronic Music. So in a way, this must have felt like a homecoming for OMD. McCluskey told the crowd that he even got his hair cut at Ray’s Barber Shop. As the band prepared to start their first song Andy encouraged the crowd to not be afraid of these “middle-aged men from Liverpool. We’ve come to kick your as with Synthesizers.” The audience got a kick out of that. The band opened with “Enola Gay”. That is one of OMD’s biggest songs so I was really surprised they opened with it. It was the perfect choice because everyone standing immediately began dancing and many of those still sitting had now jumped to their feet.
Next was keyboardist Paul Humphreys’ turn to take the mic with the song “Secret”. This was another song that I was used to hearing later in the set. I could see that OMD was not interested in holding back. They clearly wanted the audience to jump on board early. And the strategy paid off. Following the classic hit “Tesla Girls”, “OMD performed a more recent song “History of Modern Part 1.”. McCluskey told the audience that this is where the bad bass playing stopped and the bad dancing began. He then got everyone in Red Butte Amphitheater to jump up and down during their what was their most recent song in the set. People were dancing as if it was an old favorite.
Andy McCluskey then told the crowd that many people ask them if they get bored of playing their biggest hits. “Oh no!” he said. “They’ve been good to us, so we’ll be good to them! Now we’re going to play the biggest hit we ever had!” They then played their hit from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack “If You Leave”. The audience swayed and sang along. I could see that they were so happy.
They followed their biggest hit with my favorite OMD song “Maid of Orleans” which is about Joan of Arc. The pulsing beat began and so did Andy’s dancing. I’ve seen OMD many times and he does this every time. It’s as much a part of the show as his singing or bass playing. “Maid of Orleans” has long instrumental breaks so he has what looks like a laid out routine, but what could also totally be free form. When he finished the song he stated that it was the first time he danced to that song in Salt Lake City since turning 60 in June. The applause grew in celebration of that landmark birthday and the fact that he has the lungs and energy to pull off moves like that.
The set finished as it always does with OMD’s first single and hit, “Electricity”. The audience hadn’t lost any steam throughout this set and neither had the band. When OMD left the crowd roared and I could see that some people wanted more. But they were gone. I can’t wait for them to come back and headline their own Salt Lake City show.
Speaking of headliners, in some ways it’s really hard to believe that the B-52’s have been around for 40 years and at the same time they’re one of those timeless bands. I was excited to see beehive wigs and B-52’s-esque outfits being worn throughout the amphitheater.
The trio of Kate Wilson, Cindy Wilson, and Fred Schneider took the stage. Kate with her firey red wig and Cindy with her huge blonde beehive. It was just what people wanted. They wasted no time and jumped right into crowd favorite, “Private Idaho”. Their sequin outfits shimmered in the lights and people were commenting on how much they loved Cindy’s jumpsuit and Kate’s dress.
The thing that impressed me the most was their vocals were still so strong. Their harmonies were great as well. I supposed when you’ve been singing together for 40 years you’re going to be in sync. And they were. The show seemed to begin somewhat measured but as things progressed and momentum swayed things really picked up.
A touching moment took place when Cindy Wilson shared with the audience that her son and partner were in attendance. She mentioned that they were part of the trans community and that they felt the love from Salt Lake City. The crowd roared and it was clear that the ovation moved Wilson to tears. It was nice to hear that this beautiful city had embraced her family with such kindness.
The girls sang an early song called “Deadbeat Club”. This was about their days back in Athens, Georgia where they started things 40 years ago. It was one of my favorite songs of the night. “Roam” was surprisingly my favorite song of the night. I mean I’ve always liked that song, but there was something about hearing it live for the first time. I felt like this was the song where the energy went up a notch.
Of course, “Love Shack” seemed to be the song people were reserving their last bits of energy for. Because when it started it was clear that everyone let loose. “Love Shack” is one of those songs that even if you didn’t listen to it intentionally, you still know all the words. This song came out when I was in high school so I remember dancing to it many times at school dances. I have a feeling a lot of the people in the crowd have the same memory as I do. It was fun to hear them mix in “Low Rider” in the middle of the song. I would have never thought of that, but it fit right in. It was definitely the highlight of the show for most people there.
The B-52’s closed the show with another huge fan favorite, “Rock Lobster”. How random and great is this song? The aging knees of the crowd prevented most from getting as low as they may have once when Fred says “Down! Down! Down!…”, but they did their best to leap as high as they could when the music picked up again!
When you think about the B-52’s do you ever wonder how they got as big as they did? I get why we like them, but think about how huge they were at one point. How did that happen? Their songs are so unique and pretty unusual. I’m sometimes surprised that people embraced the quirk so they could still have a presence 40 years later. Of course, the real fans get it and love it. And that’s why the B-52’s are still around. I’m excited to see what kind of show they bring us next time they stop through Utah!