Last night, in Atlanta GA, R.E.M played their homecoming concert. It was a truly amazing performance. Before the show even started, It was destined to be a good show because of how the stage was set up. There were so many neon lights in all these different shapes. They had three signs saying R.E.M, a banana, a dolphin, a man smiling, a megaphone, a man and woman, a globe with PRAHA written under it, a moon, a spaceship, a martini glass, a monkey, a two-headed snake, a molecule and DNA, three cameras, a Poloroid, and a giant sign saying thank you. A lot of these are from the limited edition copy of UP.
The show started off with the expected Lotus,which is my favoritew song off of UP. I won't say anything about the other songs except a few. The most unexpected song of the night was nightswimming, which was very well done. Pilgrimage was also another unexpected treat. Suspicion came out very well live and I was surprised because it is mostly an electronic song. The man on the moon was also great. The new song The Great Beyond, off of the man on the moon soundtrack, was a pretty good song.
About halfway into the set, Michael dedicated a song to Bill Berry. I thought that was nice. The next song he also dedicated to Bill. Ok they want to really thank Bill. The whole band kept staring offstage and the crowd started cheering Bill Bill! After about a minute of that, guess who walked out. It was Bill Berry himself. I was so surprised because I thought he would be milking a cow or something. He came out, shook hands with the band, and then they all took a bow. It was great to be there. Everyone was going crazy. He left stage right after that and he didn't play any songs. That was dissapointing, but it's okay.
The three guys were great, but so were the others. Joey Waronker was a fine drummer, and Scott McCaughey added a guitar. The other big surpise was to see Peter Buck actually jumping! He was crazy throwing his legs in the air and dancing around. During another song, Michael got his cord caught up on the microphone stand. He was singing the song and at the same time, trying to untie his mic. He had the stand all upside down. Eventually he got it done.
I knew it was the last song when the drums started playing It's the end of the world. This song was incredibly fast, but I was able to keep up with the words. this lasted about seven minutes, and then they played their last chord and it was over.
I saw R.E.M during the Monster tour, and this was a much better show. I think that the band realized that the fans wanted to hear more of the old songs along with the new ones.
This really was a great concert!
By Douglas Wood
The show was the ninth proper R.E.M. show I've attended and the first one from the front row, so thank you very much, fan club! The R.E.M. concert experience is certainly enjoyable but this one ranks as unforgettable.
The evening started off on a suitably enthusiastic note as the ticket guy was about excited as I was when he saw our front row tickets. He escorted my wife and me to our seats personally and I exchanged a high five with him. Soul and funk dominated the pre-show music and I especially enjoyed James Brown's "Sex Machine" and "Shaft" by Isaac Hayes. A few minutes later, the strains of "Airportman" floated out into the night air and we were off.
The band kicked things off on a very energetic note, banging out "Lotus," "Kenneth," and "Wake-Up Bomb" with a great deal of intensity. Michael Stipe, in particular, seemed very energetic. He greeted the crowd and noted that the band was glad to be back home. "If only to sleep in our own beds and bathe in our own bathtubs, it's really great to be here."
"Pilgrimage" was next and I was struck by the band's ability to suffuse such a prayerful song (as it's recorded) with fervent feel. It rocked. Michael spent the first part of the song struggling to unwrap his microphone cord from the mike stand, doing so while singing the first verse perfectly. He had a nice round of applause when he was successful.
During "Electrolite," Michael showed off his Irish jig dancing and before "Everybody Hurts," he celebrated the band's return to Georgia by popping one of those toy streamers.
"The Apologist" was my personal favorite song performed from "Up," performed with an intensity bordering on manic. Michael introduced it as being about a person who goes through a 12-step recovery program and emerges as "more of a monster." During the song's finale, as the band was still playing, Peter Buck tore off his Rickenbacker, set it in front of his amp for a torrent of feedback and stalked back and forth. Michael spent much of the whole song lurching around the stage like a demented maniac.
"Sweetness Follows" fell flat for me. I would have preferred "Try Not To Breathe" or "Star Me Kitten."
"The Great Beyond" was suitably upbeat and "The One I Love" brought forth the predictable crowd pandemonium, although the band invested it with a great deal of energy and didn't strike me as being tired of playing it after all these years.
The poignant moment of the show came when Michael dedicated "Find The River" to "our friend Bill." Bill Berry was watching the show from stage left and when the crowd saw him standing there as the band performed the song, the chant of "Bill, Bill" began. It continued as the song ended and finally Bill walked onstage, looking both happy and embarrassed at all the attention he was getting. He got a brotherly kiss from Mike Mills and the band was four again, if only for a moment. Bill then showed a great deal of class by shaking Joey Waronker's hand, sort of figuratively handing off the R.E.M. drumming baton and then shyly walking offstage, out of the spotlight once again.
Michael then dedicated "At My Most Beautiful" to "our friend Bill" and then band then performed a wonderful version of the song, possibly one of the few love songs released in recent memory that is sincere, and not full of the usual cliches' and schlock.
From that, the tempo changed gears into a fierce version of "Finest Worksong" and then a rapturous "Losing My Religion" and "Man On The Moon." "Walk Unafraid" then closed the show with Michael really pouring himself into this one.
The encore began with the now-familiar solo rendition of "Hope" by Michael. I was ready for something amateurish, given other reactions, but I was surprised by the rudimentary yet very emotional reading Michael gave the song, even if it was only half of it. He's no great guitar player but he did fine.
Then came the special treat of the show as the band brought out a violinist and oboist to perform "Nightswimming," replacing "Why Not Smile." So we didn't get to see the Mike-Michael kiss but the tradeoff was worth it. Michael was note perfect on a song that means quite a bit to me, given that it was played at my wedding and brings back many happy memories.
"Crush With Eyeliner" came next followed by the "tits" song, "Tongue." I'm not a big fan of that and would have preferred something like "Sad Professor" or "Parakeet." A emotive "Cuyahoga" followed and then it came to a too-soon close (at least for me!) with the crazed version of "It's the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." A great show and I'm already looking forward to number 10.
Notes about the show
Given that I was standing in front of Mike, I found that the bassist really enjoys playing the role of rock star to the hilt. He certainly gives the fans something to watch. I also noticed he has an eye for the young ladies, as he often sang directly to a young blonde girl standing behind me. He was also generous with his guitar picks, tossing them into the audience. I snatched one and found it was embossed with "Mr. Meat Science," which also was written on his bass amp.
Mike also got into a shouting match with some fans sitting in the level of seats next the orchestra pit where I was. He was not happy that they were sitting in their seats and yelled, "Why don't you exchange seats with someone who gives a shit?" Not the most diplomatic way to phrase it but I have to agree. If you want to sit down, sit at the back.
Peter certainly got the crowd down front when he yelled at security to stop restraining fans and then urged everyone to move up front. At first, I was worried by this because I didn't want my pregnant wife to get caught in the crush but everyone was quite polite and it never got out of hand, save for the occasional baseball hat-wearing idiot who kept shouting for "Superman."
Michael certainly knows how to handle the crowd. During one aside, somebody screamed something and he immediately turned and asked, "Do you have something to say?" It was funny and had the same effect on the screamer as when one is caught talking in class in high school by the teacher.
I attended the soundcheck and the first song was a new one that had a siren-like keyboard and seemed to be based around two chords. They then played "Wolves, Lower," "Sad Professor," "Parakeet," and "Lotus." The version of "Lotus" only featured the first version and ground to a halt soon after. Then Peter and the side musicians left and Mike and Michael rehearsed "Nightswimming" twice with the violinist and the oboist. It was pretty cool.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists