Arts & Culture » Music

Attack of the killer B's

by Roberto Friedman

Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s: legendary! Photo: Courtesy the artists
Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson of The B-52s: legendary! Photo: Courtesy the artists  

Out There had an epic Halloween 2018. We were there at The Fillmore for a rollicking concert from The B-52s, only the greatest party band ever in the history of rock. Original 52s Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson and Cindy Wilson did not disappoint! (Original guitarist Ricky Wilson died of AIDS in 1985.)

OT first saw The B-52s perform in 1979, in the Student Union at Penn during our freshman year there. Their first album was about to drop, but we already knew they would be legendary. Meanwhile in Europe, Pepi and a boyfriend took the train all the way from Berlin, where they lived, to Paris, just for a B-52s concert. So you could say OT & P. are both lifetime fans.

In SF they opened with "Planet Claire," then followed up with "Mesopotamia" (greatest EP ever, produced by David Byrne) and "Private Idaho." How many rock bands can boast that a song inspired the title for a Gus Van Sant film about boy hustlers River Phoenix & Keanu Reeves ("My Own Private Idaho," 1991)? The B's proceeded to cover all the bases: "Roam," "Party Out of Bounds," "Strobe Light," "Give Me Back My Man," "Summer of Love," "Love Shack," and, for encores, "Rock Lobster" and "6060842!" Fred warned us about the "monsters, ghouls and vampires in Washington, DC: the Republicans!" while Kate implored us to vote. We relived our youth and were revivified.

Before the concert we slipped into a screening of director Roger Mitchell's "Tea with the Dames" at the Clay. This is something of a fan film that follows four legends of the stage — Dames Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright and Maggie Smith — as they reminisce about their decades-long friendships and lives in the theatre. There's some good dishery dispensed, including the astounding fact that, though she was gifted a box set, Dame Maggie has never ever watched "Downton Abbey!"

The other highlight of our week was a briefing for educators and press about the upcoming West Coast premiere of "It's a Wonderful Life" for San Francisco Opera. Composer Jake Heggie, librettist Gene Scheer and SFO dramaturg Dr. Kip Cranna explained their intentions in adapting the classic Frank Capra film, and soprano Kearstin Piper Brown and Adler Fellow pianist John Elam performed enticing excerpts.

A few fun factoids: Heggie and Scheer transformed the film's role of the angel Clarence to the angel Clara so that they could write tenor-soprano duets rather than tenor-baritone; and the offstage "Voice of the Universe" will be that of none other than Patti LuPone. Sounds like a "Cosmic Thing" (to slip back into 52s-ese)! Consider our appetite whetted. Find more about "Wonderful Life" at sfopera.com and in these pages to come.

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