The problem with starting out larger-than-life is you that you can only get smaller. And at this point in time, after three decades-plus of records and touring, the B-52s seem content to accept their place as a tiny, if important, part of pop music history.
They are all nostalgia now. A neo-oldies band that plays the hits on stage, pulls it off with a lasting skill that always gets a crowd dancing.
Nothing wrong with that. Their concert Monday night at the Denver Botanic Gardens was easy to like. And the audience, loaded to the end of the grassy bowl with folks old enough to remember the band’s first album, wasn’t looking for more than a good time, a trip back to days past.
They surely got that, some rocking “Rock Lobster,” a campy bit of “Mesopotamia,” a trip down the dirty, dusty trail to the “Love Shack.” Ninety minutes of memorable hits and a chance to share a favorite band with your kids can make a $77 ticket seem like a bargain.
Of course, it helps that it was one of those fine-weather nights that give the outdoor amphitheater is reputation as the second best place to see music here during summer. The air was hot and gnatty. The plants and flowers that surround on all sides, warmed up by a wet spring, were performing their own brilliant show.
The band matched that color for color. There was Kate Pierson, showing off her red hair and cat-pawing about the stage. Fred Schneider doing the jerk. Cindy Wilson, in teal, swinging her near-platinum locks, Keith Strickland bopping his head, tossing out a few smiles and looking pretty much like he did in 1980.
They sounded swell too. Fred yelled. Kate screeched. Cindy wailed. Sounds obnoxious unless you know the B’s turned that sort of thing in to some of rock’s rowdiest songs.
There were solid, tight performances on “Planet Claire” and “Party Out of Bounds.” “My Own Private Idaho” got the audience up out of its lawn chairs and into bopping mode. There were highlights for sure. Wilson let loose on “Give Me Back My Man;” you couldn’t understand every word, but you felt all the pain. She and Pierson, sharing vocals, brought a sweet sentimental edge to “52 Girls.”
But the band played it mostly straight, offering up nothing so terribly surprising. Album versions of the hits. None of the twists and turns that veteran performers throw into their act to keep themselves interested and their fans on guard. Even the new-ish songs they chose to showcase, “Funplex,” “Ultraviolet,” sounded like parodies of the older ones.
This felt like a farewell tour, and maybe that is what the B-52s are up to on this road trip, a rather long one. Pierson is 61 after all. This band has seen its fortunes fall and rise and who can blame them for keeping it uncomplicated, gathering a little treasure for their old age.
Fans can see that as cashing in, or celebrating. Monday night they celebrated.
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Ray Mark Rinaldi is the Arts & Entertainment editor for The Denver Post.
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