SAN FRANCISCO — Objectively speaking, The B-52s did not have a good show on the second night of their two-show stay at the Fillmore. Subjectively speaking? It was still amazing.
It took more than an hour after the opener finished before the band took the stage, and most of that time was filled by a roadie apparently searching for something behind the drums. When the show did start, there were often more roadies than band members on stage, clustered behind the bassist. At one point they carried a large amp from one end of the stage to the other during a song.
The B-52s singer Fred Schneider got the setlist wrong at least once and often scrambled to fill time while cables or instruments were being swapped out for the mysterious and ongoing technical problems. And more than once his attempts to stall were cut off by the drummer starting the song in the middle of his sentence.
Worst of all, some jerk left his flash on while filming the encore. Schneider held a hand up to block the light before—still mid-song—telling him to “turn off your god-damned phone.” That’s the most polite thing that could have happened in that moment.
All that said, The B-52s still put on a great show.
The B-52s are legends for a reason. Founding vocalists Cindy Wilson, Schneider and Kate Pierson may be starting to look their age at 62, 67 and 70, but aside from that you’d hardly know it wasn’t still the ’80s when they took the stage. They sounded great and their performance managed to be fun and spontaneous despite being practiced and polished after their decades on the road.
They ended the main set with their biggest hit, 1989’s “Love Shack,” and ended the encore with their breakthrough track (and my personal favorite), 1978’s “Rock Lobster.” The rest of the show was a mix of their other hits—”Roam,” “Private Idaho,” “Planet Clare”—and deeper cuts from throughout their career like “Strobe Light,” “Party Out of Bounds” and “Summer of Love.”
If some fans didn’t recognize some of the lesser-known songs, it didn’t show. The energy and joy of the music brought the surprisingly diverse crowd together and got fans moving. A young woman in her 20s, a middle-aged man in a polo shirt and khakis and a drag queen all danced feet from each other, for example. Despite the wide range of ages, races and genders, everyone simultaneously pantomimed knocking on a door during the “bang, bang, bang on the door, baby” part of “Love Shack,” totally unprompted.
That, above all, is the power and promise of great musicians putting on a great show. A group of talented people performing songs as joyful and catchy as The B-52s’ catalog can bring just about any group of people together, transporting them out of their usual lives and into one shared moment. And that, despite all the problems, is what they did.
The opener for the evening was Frankie + the Studs; apparently dropped into the Fillmore direct from the 1970s. The band’s sound is a mix of glam rock and Ramones-era punk, and they have the look to match. In fact, one band member’s leather jacket could have been stolen from Joey Ramone’s closet. Lead singer Frankie Clarke, meanwhile, had the hair and catsuit of Runaways-era Joan Jett.
They did their influences justice, with their original songs getting a crowd unfamiliar with them on board quickly. But what really sold them was their cover of “Science Fiction/Double Feature,” from the opening credits of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Any band that has a great enough appreciation for Rocky Horror to use part of a short 45-minute set to cover one of the songs from the movie has my seal of approval.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.