I have been on a 5 show European Tour following R.E.M. play in Werchter-Belgium, Paris-France, Montreux-Suisse, Vienna-Austria and Budapest-Hungary. I've seen the band play 5 shows and what I can tell on the day before they hit the US is: "R.E.M. is the overall best live performing band on the face of the earth right now." And I know what I'm talking about with my 700 concerts history in 20+ years.
It all started out when the tour-schedule was published and I found out R.E.M. was going to play the State Opera House in Vienna. My friend (known on this server as 'pepito va de curt' and we decided that we were going to see this show despite the price for tickets or whatever. We decided to start in Werchter and the yearly festival which was headlined by Metallica on Saturday and by R.E.M. on Sunday and follow the band for a 5 show schedule in 6 days through central Europe.
The festival in Werchter had beautiful weather all day and we saw a couple of very good shows from especcially Placebo and Basement Jaxx. Lenny Kravitz was pretty good as well. At 22:00 the stage was set for REM and as they walked onto the stage a big flash lightning lighted up the sky over the main stage and it started raining immediately. Welcome back in Werchter. Michael started the show with "Have you ever seen the rain" which was received with cheers and joy by the 60,000 audience. I'm not the kind of guy that remembers each song of the setlist so I can't help you with that. As you all know they are published on many places on the web.
After 8 songs into the show we were so wet that we decided to go buy dry t-shirts and raincoats (which were available at the festival) and take a drying pause in one of the tents on the festival terrain. It was raining so damn hard that we all had a hard time really enjoying the show. We saw the last half our of the show and decided that we would take our chance the next day in Paris.
We arrived in Paris after a 5 hour drive at 17:30 and we got to the venue immediately. We already had ticktes for this one. An hour before the start of the show it started raining like the day before. In fact it would all week when R.E.M. was around except the last day in Budapest, there it started raining after the concert. Patti Smith opened for REM in Bercy Sports Complex where 17,000 had gathered to see REM. After a 30 minute break the band came onto the stage. The three additional musicians first and after they started playing Airportman the three remaining REM came running onto the stage and started Lotus. The whole show we stood at 20 yards from the stage to the left where we had a magnificent sight on the stage.
The band is very much enjoying to play live and they bring a beautifully balanced mix of old and new and hard and soft songs. The sound during the European tour was mixed by 'Flood', the sound engineer and (co-)producer of U2 which resulted in a very transparent sound quality and never too loud.
As you know Michael is using text sheets on a stand for each song. Now he throws them into the audience after each song instead of keeping them as he used to do.
During the encores E-Bow The letter was played together with Patti Smith who was very much impressed of being on stage with REM it seems. During the first half of the song you could hear her being uncomfortable. In the second half of the song towards the end she got better and better. The crowd loved her and after playing Tongue the band played It's the end of the world ... after referring to a conversation Michael had with the singer of Placebo during the Werchter Festival. They talked about the end of the world which was predicted by Nostradamus on the 4th July 1999. Michael reffered to it during the show in Werchter and in Paris as well because Nostradamus might have missed it by a day. Michael told the audience he was happy we made it through another day.
After the show the only thing I could say was: "What a band !" I've never seen them play this good maybe except for one Monster show at Slane Castle in Ireland, July 95. After thinking it over once more and playing the boots I got from this server I can definitely say that REM was never in a better shape than they are right now.
After the show we stayed at a friends house in Paris. The next morning we first went to a laundry to put our wet clothes from the night in Werchter in a dryer and after that took off for Zurich where we had to collect the tickets for the Montreux show that night from a friend. We decided to take a picture out of the car window every 30 miles until we reached Budapest. That way we would try to document the drive through a substantial part of Europe. From Paris to the Geneva Lake along and over the Alps to Vienna and along the Donau to Budapest.
The drive to Montreux was really beautiful. Coming out of the mountains reaching the Lake of Geneva is a sight I will never forget. The sun was shining in the late afternoon when we reached Montreux at the lake. The show was part of the famous Monreux Jazz Festival which is held in a large conference centre on the borders of the lake. We had our tickets, it was getting closer and closer to the evening and our spirits were rising because we would see the third show at 22:00 that night. Inside the building it was anounced that REM would play for 1 hour and 15 minutes which frightened us a little because it still was a Jazz Festival.
Ben Harper opened for REM and while he was playing we already got into the front of the arena to the side in order to jump right in after Ben harper finished and everyone was getting a drink. And that worked just fine. In Europe at concerts the central parts of arena's never have seats. It's all standing so we could jump in after Ben Harper and stood '3rd row' center at the front of the stage. Right between Michael and Peter.
Because of the small size of the Strawinsky Auditorium (3,500 capacity) only 12-14 of the 50 light figures were hung on back of the stage. The show opened 'as usual' with Airportman and Lotus followed by What's the Frequency Kenneth. We had beautiful sight on Michael and Peter who where enjoying themselves very much smiling and looking into the audience. The crowd went COMPLETELY NUTS and rushed and pushed through the barriers in front of the stage at the beginning of The One I Love leaving the security guards to the side of the stage.
I made 20 pictures during the first 3 songs from which approx. 6 are good enough to show. After that I was caught by a security guard who told me with his eyes to stop making pictures. I nodded back to him that I completely understood and that I would stop making pictures (we already had what we wanted).
They played Pilgrimage that night which sounded very fresh to me and of course The Great Beyond which is a great REM song to experience. When you go to the show watch Michael push the elephant up the stairs. Very dynamic. Playing The Great Beyond from Montreux (indeed, from this server) is putting me in a state of continuous flashbacks. Did you ever feel homesick being at home? Well, I definitely do already for three weeks.
After The One I Love we got out of the front part of the stage because it was a like a 500 people wrestling game. They know how to get crazy in Montreux. We went up on the balcony to check out the numbered seats we bought. Nice seats but the people on the balcony must have been the visitors of the Jazz part of the festival. Almost nobody moved or danced which is inherent to sitting in a chair. We took two pictures of the whole stage and the crowd going nuts in front of it and went back down immediately. The pictures from the balcony are just perfect. I will upload them as soon as I have the possibility to scan them. This might take a week or two.
After the show we went outside to try to catch the band when leaving the centre. We got to talk to on of the busdrivers and a crew manager. he heard of our tour through Europe and told us to come to the artist entrance in Vienna. He said he would have a talk with Bertis, the manager of the band, and maybe they could let us in on the soundcheck in Vienna or have us meet the band. He made no promises but he thought we'd deserve it because the trip we were making. After that we heard a lot of stories from him being on the road for already 25 years and being married for 28 years that day. Time to say goodbye and see you in Vienna. We went off and didn't wait for the band anymore.
Next day there would be no show because of the distance between Montreux and Vienna which is appr. 700 miles. We had one complete day to make the trip and we decided to find a motel on the highway and get a sound sleep. It's time to get some time alone ... and I feel fine.
The best songs on the set to me are: Lotus - What's the freq. Kenneth - The wake up bomb - Losing my religion - Great Beyond - Walk Unafraid - Crush With Eyeliner - Cuyahoga - It's The End Of The World. Further all older songs you haven't heard them play for a while like Finest Worksong (Budapest) - Begin The Begin (Paris) - Half A World Away (Budapest) - Star 69 (Paris).
For those of you who are going to see REM in the US: If you get the chance of seeing them more than once don't think twice. We drove 2,500 miles in a week and we never had such a good time in our lives. Just like the band that is touring you have to be at your best at 9 o'clock at night. You get tired but you get more in return from seeing the shows. Only after seeing a number of shows you are starting to find out how good this band is and how well all the musicians fit into the setting. All the guys are multi-instrumental and very much into REM. The new guys insisted on playing these old songs because they liked them so much. In an interview in a magazine over here Mike or Peter said that the new guys did learn them the chords to some of the older songs. That made REM re-discover their older material which results in the beautiful balance in the setlist I was talking about.
After Montreux we had a day off on wednesday which we used for the 700 miles trip to Vienna. We drove along the Alps through Switzerland and Austria. We arived at 23:30 and found a hotel in a suburb of Vienna.
The next day we left for the State Opera at noon. When we got at the opera house we first started looking for our contact we had met in Montreux and who was going to talk to the manager. We found next to one of the tourbusses and he told us: "I've not been able to talk to the manager, I'm going to get some sleep now, have fun and good luck."
Well there y'are. We decided to bring the film from Montreux to a photoshop to have the pictures developed and printed and decided to stay at the artist entrance of the opera house. We didn't have tickets at the time and everybody was telling it's going to be difficult because there were only 1500 of them. I had no doubts that we would be inside the opera house that night because if you want to you always can get into almost any gig.
We stood there waiting for the band to arrive for soundcheck when Bertis, the manager, came out of the building. He couldn't help us with tickets because they had all been given away. At a certain moment Scott came walking towards the entrance and got in for soundcheck. The others would follow soon we figured. But after an hour we heard the band was already soundchecking, they had used another entrance.
Still no tickets, it was 5 in the afternoon and no autographs. Just nothing but rain. At 18:30 the doors opened and it was time to get tickets. We went to the front door where I bought a ticket for 1500 Shilling which is some $120. Not bad since face value was around $70. My seat was in a box where there are 6 seats on the right side of the stage halfway down the hall at the third level. An excellent place to watch the show and make pictures. We smuggled our camera's in which was the easiest thing to do because there were no bag-checks.
The opera house is a building from 1860 which is built to perform acousticly. A small but very high stage where the familiar light signs were put UP. The concert was part of the Vienna Jazz Fest but the audience was R.E.M. only as far as I could see. At 19:30 Patti Smith started her warming up show during which I strolled around the building and enjoyed being inside going to see the gig that started this whole tour for us. R.E.M. in the State Opera House in Vienna, the complete history of popular music coming together in this place at this night.
At 9 R.E.M. came onto the stage and started with Lotus and Kenneth. After some time they figured out the sound which was astonishing clear. Although I was at the right side of the stage it seemed the sound came from the exact centre of the stage at the same heighth I was sitting. First I thought there were speakers behind the curtains in the back of the stage. Then I realized it must be the acoustics of the hall. Fabulous.
All people were seated during the show and in front of the stage. Some people started to stand up during Kenneth and the guards were running form one end to the other to have everyone seated again. At some point Michael told the audience that if one felt like standing up and dancing he should do so. This was the sign for the people down in the hall to stand up and walk up front, stand in the hallways and have a party. Michael was talking to security guards which he called to the stage because they were verty confused. Michael also told that this was probably a revolution for the opera house.
A guy in a black suit came up to the stage and called Michael up front. They talked for a minute after which Michael told the audience he had to take back some of his words in feeling free to move around because the manager of the house 'was going crazy right now'. He asked everybody to stand and dance in front of their seats, not up their seats. After that a big cheer from the audience and on went the show. Great. You should have seen the guards, they completely caught off-guard.
A lot of people were taking pictures and the people behind the mixing desk were pointing them out to the guards. I took one picture with a flash from the box I was in and two minutes later a nice young security lady was standing next to me in the box telling me that making pictures was not allowed. As always I fully cooperated by putting my camera on my seat after which she left. I put out the flashlight and covered the camera as best as I could when I stuck it out to make pictures. We got around 40 pictures of the show soem of which are beautiful.
The set was more quiet than on other nights which rose to the occasion pretty well. I like REM best as rocking as they can get but in this setting it was a very special show. During Losing My Religion the crowd went nuts which is a spectacular sight in a classic opera house. People cheering and dancing in all those boxes, arms in the air, clapping, frantic. Got some very good pictures of only boxes, 3 levels over eachother, with only cheering people. I'll post.
During E-Bow The Letter of course Patti Smith joined the band again to sing together with Michael. This time she was into it right from the start. Beautiful. After that the rest of the Patti Smith band came on to play Patti's anthem People Have The Power. What a joy to watch two bands on stage that have so much fun in putting the State Opera House upside down. What a party. During It's the End Of The world As We Know It all the lighting in the hall was connected to the switchboard which resulted is all the lights in the hall going on and off together with the light show on stage. Spectacular and sure a revolution to the opera house. Mozart would've enjoyed this night, I'm pretty sure about that.
After the show ended we got out and tried to find a bar which is hard to find near the opera house. So we decided to go back to the opera house and take a cab back to the hotel. As we were approaching the opera house we saw a bunch of people standing near the backstage entrance waiting for the band to come out when suddenly there were flashlights. We started running and found Joey Waronker had come out and was giving autographs. I had a city map of Vienna folded in my pocket and a marker for this purpose. He signed it and I told him he was doing a great job which he clearly appreciated.
After a while Ken Stringfellow and Scott came out and signed my map as well. Now it was just for the real thing that we waited. There were two tourbusses still standing besides the entrance. We talked to the accountant for the tour and some other guys who were waiting for the band members to go to Budapest. The guard at the door wanted us to believe that everybody was gone, but hey..
After 15 minutes Peter and Mike came out and while Peter signed the Vienna map I asked him if the show in Budapest would be more rocking than tonights gig. "Tomorrow will be completely different, this was a special show and a special occasion" he said. Mike Mills signed the map as well. Mike Mills is a very kind person. After signing a shirt, a map or a ticket the person who got it would say "thanks very much". After that he looks you in the eyes and says "You're welcome" with abig smile on his face. And he does that to everyone, great guy.
Peter and Mike each got on a different bus and they all drove away leaving us with the question where Michael was. We haven't seen him and not a lot of people will during this tour I guess except on stage.
Well, at the end of the day I got almost everything I wanted out of it. Tickets for the most special show on the whole tour, autographs and the chance of a short conversation with the band. Our spirits were at a high that night. We went back to the hotel and opened up our own private mini-bar .... a bottle of single malt scotch whisky. What a band, what a week.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists