Photos by Jessica Mickey
For years, it's generally been considered poor form for a visiting act to cover an R.E.M. hit in the band's hometown, but if anyone could do it with festive authority, it's singer and bandleader Kate Pierson. Standing center stage in front of her own backing band, she closed a lively and intimate set at the Georgia Theatre on Saturday night with a three-song encore that featured a rousing version of "Shiny Happy People."
Known best for her role with the legendary B-52s, Pierson returned to town in support of her recently released solo debut, Guitars and Microphones, a well-produced, self-released pop gem assembled with assistance from Grammy-winning songwriter Sia.
The show kicked off with a brief set by the rootsy and melodic Mike + Ruthy Band, led by guitarist and keyboardist Mike Merenda and vocalist/percussionist/violinist Ruthy Ungar. Based in Woodstock, NY, the quintet is serving as Pierson's backing band for her entire summer tour.
Pierson opened her set with a spot-on rendition of her new album's upbeat lead single, "Mister Sister," followed by the quick-tempo, B-52s-esque title track, "Guitars and Microphones." She sounded cheerfully bratty on the rowdy "Throw Down the Roses," the album's opening song.
Gracious and appreciative throughout the show, Pierson frequently praised Sia and Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi for helping write and arrange some of the other tracks featured in the set list, including the swingy "Bottoms Up," the prom-ready "Matrix" and the synth-heavy, mod-pop-tinged "Bring Your Arms."
Other highlights included a dynamic version of Iggy Pop's “Candy" (Pierson sang it as a duet with Iggy on his album Brick by Brick), and the gentle ballad "Pulls You Under" (co-written by Dallas Austin and Sia). The only B-52s tune of the set was the show-closer "Roam," which the crowd responded to wildly.
Pierson mentioned the B-52s' first-ever show at the Georgia Theatre in 1979. The old-school Athens scenesters and musical colleagues on hand Saturday, some of whom no doubt attended that show, certainly danced and partied like it was still '79.