I arrived at Walnut Creek for my first R.E.M. show ever at around 6:45 with my 37-year-old father and his twentysomething friend, our next-door neighbor, resident R.E.M. freak (second only to me), and my bass instructor, Jack. After they got a drink a piece and bought me my huge Mountain Dew (yes, I am only 15, although I jokingly told the lady who was giving out the wristbands that allow you to purchase alchohol that I was 25 and my dad started cracking up) we sat down close to the front of the lawn, almost dead center. Wilco didn't come on until 8 and at around 7:45 I got bored and went to buy a t-shirt... I got the light blue one which just says "R.E.M." with a little design on the front and then the Up helix and American tour dates on the back. $25 frickin' bucks, and now I only have $45 to my name, but I think it was worth it.
While I was at the merchandising table, Wilco came on, so I rushed back to see, seeing as I had to cover this show and write an article about it (well, the article isn't due for another few weeks, and I don't plan on writing it until another few weeks) for our school newspaper, and I want to be able to say _something_ about them in there. I had actually only heard 1 of their songs on the radio, but I'd heard a lot about them and was looking forward to their set, and I wasn't disappointed. They were excellent and set the mood well for R.E.M. Jack thought they sounded like Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, but whatever. My dad (who was only there to hear Losing My Religion, which pissed me off, but oh well) just sort of smiled.
Setup was relatively quick compared to other shows I've been to. It was 35 minutes, compared to an hour for the last show I went to (Citizen King played and then Everclear took an hour to set up... I was right in the front and it was at least 120 degrees in there and I damn near passed out... but now I'm rambling.) It was 9:15 when R.E.M. took the stage.
The boys opened up with Lotus, and immediately you could tell a good 95 percent of the crowd (which was predominantly college-age and older... I was the youngest person in my immediate vicinity besides little kids who were there with their parents) had no clue what the hell was going on, although it definetely woke everybody up and got them on their feet. After that I called Kenneth, but they surprised me and went into Wake-Up Bomb, which was a pleasant surprise. The crowd didn't know this one either, which I found a little surprising.
After that I started complaining, in a really loud voice so everybody around me could hear me, about how dead the crowd was, which was totally true. They didn't know the words, and they weren't even moving to the music. Half of them were talking to their girlfriends and not even paying attention... I guess the guys must have heard me cause next they went into Fall On Me, which finally woke everybody up and got them off their asses. They broke the crowd momentum by going into Suspicion, which Michael introduced by saying "We're going back to 1953 for this one." I liked it, but the album version is better. I was surprised at how many songs off of Up they got to to work live, but Suspicion is just not one of them. However, it was still nice to hear, and it was enhanced by the fact the moon popped out above the rain-threatening clouds towards the end.
Next was Electrolite, which made _me_ thrilled (I was really hoping to hear a lot of songs off of Hi-Fi, 'cause I think it's such an underrated album), but again, next to nobody knew it. They went into Everybody Hurts next though, which of course had the lighters out and everybody singing along. At the end, even my dad, the life-long Meatloaf fan, commented "Wow, I liked that song." Next was Daysleeper, which was the only song off of Up the crowd knew, and even then it was only about a quarter of them.
Then they shocked the hell out of me. Michael started telling this story about how they were eating in Carrboro on Thursday, and they were right outside of the first place they had ever played outside of Georgia. Then he announces, "So we decided we wanted to play a song that we haven't played in 15 years." and I absolutely freaked OUT. You should've seen me... I damn near had an orgasm on the spot. "Here are the words," Michael joked, pointing to a piece of paper on the stand in front of him. "They're off the Internet... and they're really wrong." Then they launched into Camera and absolutely nobody - and I mean _nobody_ - knew it except me. Some jackasses next to me were sitting down, but I was too happy to care. What a treat!
They followed that up with the Apologist, which I was excited to hear because I like that song quite a bit, but it didn't get the people who were sitting down to stand up. An extremely pacifying, but gorgeous, version of Sweetness Follows didn't help either, but when Michael started telling the story about "Man on the Moon" (the movie), the crowd started cheering again, and once they launched into Great Beyond, most of the people were on their feet again... and I must say, I was impressed. It's a damn good pop song, something with really infectious energy, like Radio Song or Texarkana (which, incidentally, I was disappointed they didn't play.)
The One I Love followed, and obviously that got everybody who wasn't on their feet back up again. I don't care what anybody says about this song being overplayed: twenty-thousand people singing "fi-reeeeeeeeee!" along with Stipe is really amazing. E-Bow came next, and it was a wonderful version with Mike on backup, even though the cheers that came after it were a lot less deafening than after Fall on Me. Next was AMMB, which even though nobody knew it, had the crowd swaying right along. It's such a gorgeous song.
An _insane_ version of Star 69 with Michael screaming the title words every time he got into it got everybody back into the mood. Losing My Religion was next, and needless to say, _everybody_ just started singing... I know this song has been way too commercialized, way too overplayed in concert, and way too overplayed on the radio, but that's because it is one of the most perfect pop songs ever, and it was a bonafide treat to hear. However, Man on the Moon was by far the best of the bunch. There is absoutely nothing like a whole arena full of people singing, dancing, and pumping their fists in the air (well, actually, the fist-pumping was only me) to that song. It is so full of energy and liveliness and ecstasy, it's disgusting. The rush you get when Michael sings "Andy, did you hear about this one?" is amazing... and, no joke, as I am typing this, I am getting goosebumps just thinking about it.
I thought they would leave the stage after that, but they surprised me. The lights dimmed and a spotlight shone on Michael, and he began to solo the chorus of Walk Unafraid. He did that twice, and then the band came in and they played the song. Even though this couldn't possibly equal MotM, I was still absolutely thrilled to hear my favorite song off of Up. After that they left.
About three minutes later they came back. I knew that Michael would be playing Hope solo and then Mike would come out and they would do Why Not Smile... but I still had that glimmer of hope that they wouldn't. Hope was, in a word, (and if any of the guys in the band happens to read this, I'm sorry) lame. Michael's voice was amazing, but switching chords every 10 seconds does not constitute guitar-playing. It would have been a lot better with the whole band, and I was disappointed, because I like Hope a lot. Why Not Smile was a lot better, but I was kind of disappointed to hear the song, cause I'm not a big fan of it. In the 5 or 6 minutes it took to play Hope and WNS, we could (and probably should) have heard Driver 8 or Pretty Persuasion or So. Central Rain or Pilgrimage or my personal old fave, Perfect Circle... still, though, it was pretty interesting to see Michael play guitar, even if he does suck. I guess Camera took up the "old gem" allocation for the night.
About a third of the crowd around me was sitting down after WNS, but they got right back up, cause after WNS they went right into Kenneth. That may have been the biggest contrast between two songs (WNS acoustic into Kenneth, I mean) that I've ever heard at any concert, but it worked since Kenneth is just one of those feel-good, be-happy songs. I knew Tongue was next, but still kept out some slim hope that we'd get Strange Currencies or Bang and Blame... it's not that I don't like Tongue, just that I like those two more. But when Michael said, "this next song has tits", I knew we were in for it. Just about nobody knew that song, but the crowd went INSANE when Michael took off his shirt.
After Tongue was one of the best parts of the night - Stipe Storytime. These have probably been rehashed a million times, but for a first-timer like me, they were great... Michael has a lot of charisma.
He started out by explaining how there was a charity at every show hand-picked by the band, and he plugged them... then he plugged a couple stores he had been too. Then he explained how there had been posters inappropriately produced linking the band with Winn Dixie and Levis, and the crowd went absolutely berserk when he said, "There is no link between Winn Dixie and Levis and R.E.M... at all." He went on to explain how because of the mistake, the band got to pick charities for the companies to give "a substantial amount of money" to.
Somebody then threw something on stage, which landed behind Michael, and he said, "What's that?" He picked it up, gasped, and said, "It's a beautiful plastic ring! Thank you _very_ much... I'll cherish it forever," and then kissed it. Funny as all.
He then began a story about how his grandmother, every week, would go to Piggly Wiggly for her quart of milk, and then was interrupted by some moron in the crowd, whom he not-so-politely told off: "Would you shut up? I'm talking here." Everybody went nuts, of course, and then he finished the story. When he asked grandmama why she always went to Piggly Wiggly, she told him, "Cause it's a Southern institution..."
And see, if you don't live in the South, you don't fully understand the _fierce_ sense of loyalty most Southerners (not me, but most of us) have to the South. We're talking people forming a political party wanting the South to secede from the union "for the best of the country" ... it's insane. So of course when Michael mentions that Piggly Wiggly is a Southern institution, everybody goes absolutely crazy and keeps cheering for like... forever, until Michael starts talking again, like 30 seconds later: "We try to ceffuse that... wait, ceffuse... is that a word?"
And then somebody (I couldn't tell, although I think it was Mike) said "Anything but Winn Dixie at this point," which of course prompted another huge cheer. You could feel the electricity in the air. Then Michael introduced everybody on stage, and said "we're gonna play a couple more songs for you... this is one of my favorites. It's called... well, you'll find out." And they went into Find the River, which was absolutely gorgeous and spectacular, and to boot, a lot of people knew it. I shut my eyes and swayed. After that was done, I checked my watch and realized we were almost out of time. And sure enough, the band launches into an abso-f'n-lutely crazy version of End of the World. Every single person in the entire ampitheatre was screaming and the top of their lungs for the first few seconds of the songs... the crowd noise after that was a hilarious mumble-jumble of people attempting to sing the song... a few people (including me and Jack) had it down. When the first chorus came on... oh, man, forget about it. This topped even Man on the Moon... the electricity was absolutely incredible. The outro went on four minutes... we must have sang "It's the end of the world as we know it... and I feel fine" ten times, but God was it amazing.
And then the long, drawn-out ending, Michael saying "thank you", and finally, Mike picking up a dropped microphone and saying "Thank you, Raleigh, we had a blast, we love you!" ... and it was over. It was 11:15... a two-hour set, give or take 5 minutes, and the best damn concert I've ever been to. I was really pleased that the band did so well, cause the crowd sucked... I mean, nobody was moving at all, just standing and talking, except for the songs that they knew... and those were only a few of them.
But for me, it was an experience that I'll never forget... and hopefully just the first of more R.E.M. shows to come.
By Thomas Ivey
I had superb fifth row seats (in the center section with the Fan Club members). I had received them back in May, so my anticipation was high. Wilco's set was good, but I had not heard them before, so I did not know any of their songs. They did not get a great response from the crowd, so the lead singer made several references to the crowd being there to see REM and that Wilco liked them too. He later thanked REM for being very generous to them.
My section was on their feet the entire time REM was on stage and almost everyone knew the words to all of the songs (except "The Great Beyond", which was new, will be on the soundtrack for a movie on Andy Kauffmann coming out later this year). The show was amazing, great energy. Mike Mills kept taunting us with the possibility that he would throw us a pick, flirted with a couple of the prettier girls, basically being a big tease.
Peter Buck stayed on the other side of the stage from where I was, so we mostly focused on the Mike and Michael show. Stipe was all over the place. Doing his usual strutting, posing and teasing. He mentioned that he would have to learn some new tricks, because after the film "Man On the Moon" (which the instrumentalists are doing the soundtrack for) comes out later this year, everyone would know that he was ripping off Andy Kaufmann for most of his moves. Would have liked to have heard a few more things off of Murmur or Reckoning, but the set selections did a great job of blending the old favorites with the new material.
Wish they were playing another date somewhere within travel distance and that I could get the same quality seats for another round.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists