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Monday, February 21, 2005

Lost my Religion...

...and officially adopted a new one: REMism.

I had been to one R.E.M. concert before Saturday (an outdoor gig in Locarno in the summer of 2003), and all I can say is it seems the band is getting better and better. The show was, perhaps unsurprisingly, absolutely breathtaking.

I arrived at the venue just before the doors opened. Once inside, I managed to squeeze my way through the masses of people until I got to something like the fourth row. Surrounded by overweight British rock fans and standing on my toes, I could just about see the head of Andy LeMaster, lead singer and guitarist of the opening act, Now It's Overhead (for once, an opening act that was more than entertaining - I'll definitely check out some of their albums).


The show begins

At around 9pm, the long wait was over. Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe (almost looking scary with half his face painted green) walked onto the stage and the crowd went, erm, 'bonkers'. So much for Britain's national sport queuing (and respecting those in front of you) - the semi-decent view I had worked so hard to manoeuvre myself into was gone within seconds. As Peter played the opening chords of "I Took Your Name", I was literally being thrown around by the masses. Half jumping up and down with the crowd, half trying to maintain some balance, I couldn't really see the stage anymore, and all I could smell was - well let's not go there, I told you about the overweight guys around me. But what I heard was pure musical energy, and the guys were obviously having fun.

The show started with a couple of guitar-heavy rock songs - after the opener (which I never really cared for but I obviously should have - it's great live) they played "Animal" and "Undertow". The set then quieted down a bit, with the first song from Around the Sun ("The Outsiders") and old-time classic "7 Chinese Brothers" - at which point I decided that occasionally catching a glimpse of Michael's head wasn't really what I paid £40+ for, and moved a couple of rows back. Best idea I had that night - only a couple of meters back and I could now see the entire stage and breathe freely at the same time.

"Everybody Hurts" was an unexpected highlight. I suppose that after listening to that one so many times, I simply forgot how beautiful it was, and the last minute of the song, when it reached its climax, was a moment I won't forget for a long time. The show continued with songs from the new album, "Electron Blue" (which, as I expected, works much better live than on the record) and "Leaving New York". The heavy rock returned with "Departure" and "Orange Crush", and yes, I found myself crushed again from all sides, but it sure was worth it.


Stipe in action

Stipe then announced that R.E.M. came from a "confusing part of the world called the United States", which drew loud boos from the audience, and then said "the next two songs were written in protest of the actions of the current administration", at which point the boos became loud cheers. "I Wanted to be Wrong" and "Final Straw" indeed showed just how angry the band is at the current situation.

The first part of the show ended with a bunch of sing-along rock hits, including "The One I Love" and the final song, "Losing My Religion" - as always, the crowd was hysteric, but Stipe and co. couldn't quite hide their lack of enthusiasm for their greatest hit (after playing it constantly for 14 years).

They returned for a 7-song encore that was in many ways the best part of the show. I found myself once again jumping up and down and singing at the top of my lungs (sorry to those standing around me) to "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" and "Bad Day" (one of my all-time favourite R.E.M. songs). Some sweetness followed with "Sweetness Follows" (...) and the beautiful "Electrolite". Then, R.E.M. unveiled the little treat I had hoped the would have in store for London: a song they had only played once previously since 1987, "Swan Swan H" (pronounced "Swan Swan Huh" - as Stipe admitted on Saturday, naming that song was probably the most pretentious thing he's ever done). The show ended on a loud note, with the unreleased "I'm Gonna DJ" (what a song!) and "Man on the Moon", a classic song to end a classic show.


Scott McCaughey - not a guy you'd simply walk past on a Sunday night in Islington

The three core band members were obviously having a lot of fun, and so did the additional musicians on stage - including Scott McCaughey, whom I met (!!!) the night after the concert in front of a bar in Islington. The wild audience obviously had an effect on the extended band, and Scott told me that London was always a great place to perform. The one thing I dislike about R.E.M.'s live performances - their apparent inability or unwillingness to minimize breaks in between songs - was, even more than in 2003, offset by this amazing energy the guys bring to the stage. The strange and refreshing mix of three rather different onstage personalities - Stipe's unchallenged and ever-growing charisma, Buck's coolness (and occasional outbursts) and Mills' nerdy yet revolutionary attitude - makes R.E.M. a joy to watch, listen, sing and jump along to. See you soon, guys!

Setlist:

I Took Your Name
Animal
Undertow
The Outsiders
7 Chinese Brothers
High Speed Train
Everybody Hurts
Electron Blue
Leaving New York
I've Been High
Departure
Orange Crush
I Wanted To Be Wrong
Final Straw
Imitation of Life
The One I Love
Walk Unafraid
Losing My Religion
***********
What´s The Frequency, Kenneth?
Bad Day
Sweetness Follows
Swan Swan H
Electrolite
I´m Gonna DJ
Man on the Moon

3 comments:

Carlina said...

I can't wait - I'm going to hear and see them here in Hong Kong :-)

Judge Jonathan said...

Cool!
Just realized how lucky us Londoners were - Mike Mills fell ill the day after the concert, and the concerts in Sheffield and Glasgow have been cancelled...

carlina said...

SO GEIL! Das Konzert war der Hammer! Und wie erwartet waren fast keine Chinesen anwesend und die ganze Halle war bestuhlt... Aber denoch war die Stimmung und das Konzert ausgezeichnet. Achja, die Setliste war genau die Gleiche wie bei dir.