Wednesday, September 21, 2011

From the WWYG Archives: R.E.M.: Simply Amazing

Back in October 2004, Lynda and I saw R.E.M. perform in Cincinnati. This was the last time I saw them live. Today, they announced their end as a band. And so I re-post my memories of my last encounter with them below.

R.E.M. has meant as much (or probably more) to me as any musical act of my life time. I'm not surprised to see this news, but a bit of me is sad. It's been great fun all these years.



The last time I saw REM live was in the Atlanta Omni and later in Macon, both in 1988 at the beginning and end of the GREEN tour. The band was still a foursome and they were just beginning to enter the mega-star, arena phase of their careers.

They were good, as best I can remember (it was 15 years ago and I was only 18). But as Lynda said on our way home from the Cincinnati concert last night "There is something to be said for seeing a group that has been around a while and has lots of songs to play."

Absolutely! REM was awesome last night. Chalk it up to their recent tour preparation in the Move swing state. Chalk it up to one of America's most political frontmen playing a swing-state less than a week before an election. Make up any excuse you want, but these guys were rockin' last night.

The first 20 minutes alone was just about worth the price of admission and I couldn't believe what I heard. If you ever want to hear some classic REM, catch them on tour when they are thinking election thoughts. The first song was "Around the Sun," title track from the new album and then they quickly swung into a great rendition of one of their mid-career best, "Finest Worksong." Then "Begin the Begin" which led quickly to "Exhuming McCarthy." Some great songs from Document. Truly amazing. I don't know if releasing a greatest hits album made them appreciate their older stuff more or if they are trying to really do some political preaching in late October, but they never would have played those songs in 1988.

The rest of the show is more impressions and the song order is not precise certainly. Lynda and I tried to remember and write them down as we drove home.

They played several songs from Around the Sun and usually the crowd mellowed more then (and appropriately so). "High Speed Train," "Final Straw," "Leaving New Your," "Boy in the Well," the live debut on one of my new favorites "Electron Blue."

[KM] I know that this latest album hasn't really wowed you and I agree, but it is a shame they didn't release these things as live versions. The emotion, power, and thudding of the drum beats are so much better live than the studio version of Around the Sun.

Stipe didn't do much talking, except for twice. The first was when he was introducing "I Wanted to Be Wrong" claiming it had more autobiographic "chunks" than any other song he has ever written. Before it was clear, I was convinced they were going to play "World Leader Pretend" but that, alas, didn't happen.

Because it was Ohio they played a great version of "Cuyahoga" (!!) and introduced one great one as "Here is a song you might have heard before" . . . then "The One I Love." Beautiful.

Some other great ones--"Drive," "Losing My Religion," "Bad Day," and "Animal" (from the recent Greatest Hits release), "Imitation of Life" and "Beat a Drum."

The first song of the short encore set was "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" Stipe came back out with no shirt and they performed that one great. Then Stipe put on a Kerry t-shirt to mostly cheers and the band played on. (There were a good number of Republican boo-ers in the audience, but I swear they were all sitting in the top corner of the theater's upper balcony, stage left.) When everything was over, Stipe mugged a bit with his Kerry t-shirt to the crowd--again generating some booing amidst the cheers, but other than that and a short plea to everyone "no matter what side you're on" to go and vote, he was very focused on the music.

The band did a version of "Walk Unafraid" another of my biggest favorites that sounded like it could have fit perfectly on Monster. Raw and driving and very, very good. Near the end of the encore they played "Permanent Vacation" identified as the first song the group ever wrote. It sounded exactly like something four guys would were influenced by the Ramones would write in 1981. The very last song of the night was "Man on the Moon." Not one of their best, but it is better live and the crowd was up and rockin' at this point.

Just awesome, really. I don't think I'll wait 15 more years to see these guys live again. They played an incredible set of old and new and just handle themselves like they've been doing it for so long. Just great.

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