The B-52s with the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA presents a 90 minute concert from February of 2011. The show, shot in the band’s hometown, marked the 34th anniversary since their first show together. Audience members were encouraged to attend in outlandish costumes and wigs, hence the “wild crowd” of the title. The band, while obviously showing their age, put on a fun and lively show. Stage patter is kept to a minimum, with relatively infrequent brief introductions between songs.
The four surviving founding members – vocalists Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson and guitarist Keith Strickland – were naturally the focus of attention. But their touring band deserves special note, particularly the rhythm section of Sterling Campbell (drums) and Tracy Wormworth (bass). They really power the songs along, inspiring the clearly enthralled audience to bop along. Paul Gordon ably handles keyboards and additional guitar to round out the ensemble.
The B-52s’ entire career is represented over the course of 20 tunes, from the early classics “Rock Lobster” and “52 Girls” to tracks from their most recent album Funplex (2008). Of course, their massive hits from 1989’s Cosmic Thing – “Love Shack” and “Roam” – are performed with audience-pleasing energy. Pierson sounds particularly strong throughout the show, especially impressive given the startling fact that she was 62 years old at the time. Wilson is a little shakier during her solo vocal moments, though she and Pierson still harmonize very well together. Schneider seems a bit reserved, almost as if he wasn’t fully committed to the show. Again, it may simply be that age has understandably sapped a little bit of his energy.
The B-52s with the Wild Crowd! Live in Athens, GA is presented in 1080i high definition, framed at 1.78:1. Eagle Rock Entertainment has done a predictably good job with the image quality. The detail is strong, even in shots of the dimly lit audience. This isn’t an especially colorful show, with blue dominating everything, but flashes of bright color (such as Kate Pierson’s red hair) stand out nicely. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is outstanding, with very punchy bass and drums. Definition between the instruments is excellent, with Keith Strickland’s guitar ringing out clearly. Vocals are well integrated. Audience applause is mixed at an appropriate level, with some subtle rear channel ambiance providing a nice “live” feel.
There is only one extra feature, but it’s a very worthwhile one. It’s a 33 minute interview with the band, all of whom share memories of their many years together. It’s a warm, laid-back conversation that covers many topics, including deceased founding member Ricky Wilson. Vintage still photos are edited in to break things up visually, which gives the interview more of a documentary feel. This is a valuable addition to the disc. It’s nostalgic for longtime fans and very informative for anyone just discovering the B-52s.