Being raised in the '80s with a musical education provided by two hippie parents, The B-52s was not a band listened to in the Hickman home. We were too busy being taught everything Beatles. In fact, prior to reviewing this Blu-ray, I knew less than a handful of B-52 songs: "Private Idaho," "Roam," "Love Shack" and "Rock Lobster." That was it. I was never taught that I would be a heretic if I listened to them, so I learned that Fred Schneider's voice was annoying all on my own. His lead talk-vocals alone made me not want to discover more of their music, so I've been in dark about their musical talent … until now.
One thing that I never knew about the B-52s was how amazing their actual music was. Like their vocals and lyrics or not, you cannot dismiss the fact that the music itself was not only well-written and performed, but it still is today! I don't know that I'll ever get past the odd singing styles applied, but I can now easily see through it to the actual music that drives it.
'The B-52s with the Wild Crowd!' was shot on Valentine's Day 2011 in Athens, Georgia, exactly 34 years after the band played their first gig in that same influential city. (For more info on the role that Athens played in the creation and musical inspirations of the band, see the Special Features section of this review). The setlist is not only comprised of their poppy party hits that made them popular, but the songs that they wrote after their collective writer's block, tracks that appeared on the 'Funplex' album. The entire setlist is as follows.
2. "Private Idaho"
5. "Dancing Now"
6. "Give Me Back My Man"
8. "Whammy Kiss"
9. "Deadbeat Club"
11. "52 Girls"
12. "Party Out of Bounds"
13. "Love in the Year 3000"
14. "Cosmic Thing"
15. "Hot Corner"
16. "Love Shack"
18. "Strobe Light"
19. "Planet Claire"
20. "Rock Lobster"
The last song in the main body of the concert is "Love Shack." My only complaint is that the following four songs that lie within the encore are obviously freaky fan favorites. They don't show off the band's potential like the 16 tracks that preceed it and feature a slew of wild-rhythmed odd songs that gets "The Wild Crowd" moving, but don't do much for the non-fans – like myself. I enjoyed the musical merits of the concert up until this point.
I've taken lots of guff for my concert reviews in the forums for picking on the older bands that are still trying to rock out in their ripe old ages as if they were young. I'd give those disgruntled fans more fuel to throw in the fire with this review, but the four surviving original members of The B-52s pull it off here. Fred Schneider can still talk-sing like he did in his prime. Melodious harmonizing singers Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson are still quite the pair. But the real compliments go to Keith Strickland. Before the band's guitarist Ricky Wilson passed away, Keith was the drummer. Now, he not only plays those guitar leads, but he plays them extremely well. You'd think that he was primarily a guitarist, but he picked it up later down the road and plays better than most. Another funny thing about Keith is that he has aged well – so well, in fact, that I believed that he was part of the new supporting members of the original band and not a founding member. While his singing counterparts look their age, Keith definitely does not.
I've never been a B-52s fans, but I haven't hated them either. I was simply distracted by their odd vocals. If this concert can make a non-fan like me see through a strongly disliked element and not only appreciate but enjoy them, I'm certain that it will please absolutely every B-52s fan out there.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Rock Entertainment has placed 'Live in Athens, GA' on a Region-free BD-50 in a standard blue keepcase. Images from the concert that have been printed on the back of the cover art sheet can be seen through interior of the keepcase. Included is a booklet with even more images and concert details. The only thing to play before the main menu is an unskippable Eagle Rock Entertainment vanity reel.
'The B-52s with the Wild Crowd!' has been given a live 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that's presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Featuring a collective 130 minutes of video on a big BD-50, there's hardly and room for flaws to exist.
Just like most concert Blu-rays, the first part of the show tends to carry a slightly hazy feel. After the first 20 to 30 minutes, some of the stage smoke/fog effects dissipate and are lessened, allowing the cameras to accurately capture the show in high detail, clarity and quality.
Once the fog burns off, blacks become inky and rich. While the oversaturation of stage lights fluctuates with the lighting plot, it's surely a fault of the lighting itself – not the Blu-ray. Anyone who has been to a flashy pop concert before knows this.
The image is almost always sharp and clear. The camera operators do a fine job capturing their subjects in focus. However, presumably at the will of the band members, the musicians are rarely shown in close-ups. I assume this is done to keep the cameras from revealing their aging. The few close-ups that we do get feature great detail.
The only compression flaw to make its way onto this Blu-ray is aliasing – and even then it's a very minor flicker on a few short occasions. Bands, artifacts and noise aren't a problem and DNR and edge enhancement aren't applied.
The standard three Eagle Rock audio options are presented for your listening enjoyment: 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital and Linear PCM Stereo. As usual, the lossless Master Audio track is near perfect.
'Live in Athens, GA' features The B-52s in a gloriously full, dynamic and rich form. Each instrument can always be heard in great clarity and depth. The mix spreads the instruments throughout the room. The vocal levels are fantastic. Never trumped by the music, they are at an equal volume between songs as during songs. Bass is deep and effective, solidifying the band's collective sound.
My only complaint with the mix is that the sounds programmed in the rear channels are a tad too quiet. Had they been raised just a hair, this mix would warrant all-encompassing sounds worthy of a five-star rating.
The B-52s seems to be quite a polarizing band. Fans are die-hard and non-fans can't get past the vocals, but no matter which group you can be clustered into, there's no dismissing the fact that they're an exceptionally talented group. If this 2011 concert proves one thing, it's that they've still got it going on. If you've never been able to get past their singing style, pop this disc in and you'll see just how strong their musical writing and performance abilities are. With a near-perfect lossless audio mix, it's made even more apparent than ever. Luckily, the video quality also makes the show look great. The icing and glittery sprinkles atop this pop cupcake is a single great special feature where the surviving members of the band converse for more than half-an-hour about the origins and history of their group and music. Those unimpressed by The B-52s will gain respect for them via this Blu-ray and the fans will love seeing their cherished party band pump out a great show 34 years after their initial rise to success. It's a win-win. Recommended.