, Ryman Auditorium, Nashville TN 10/22/2004
When was the last time R.E.M. played a 2500 seat venue? I peg that around the time of the "Work Tour," circa 1987 when I saw them play the War Memorial Coliseum in KCMO. That was the era of Document
. It was on the tail end of the Reagan Administration, and political statements in music were somewhat au courant. Little did we know at that time that the Republican elephant would continue to rampage for another 4 years, but that was also the time of Michael Dukakis.
Now Dukakis' former Lt. Gov. is duking it out with a different Bush, R.E.M. has been on a major label since then, and now they're back to playing small arenas in the southeastern US -- and just off the Americans Coming Together tour, Stipe is making few bones about his partiality.
R.E.M. showed up late Thursday to support a local rock benefit for the Music Row Democrats
. Stipe congratulated my wife on all of her hard work on the campaign, and they soon after went about their way until the next night.
And during the encore, Stipe bore a simple white t-shirt which had a blue star within a red circle, with the word KERRY in bold print above. (I'm informed that this particular shirt is only available for premium contributions to the DNC. Talk about wearing your allegiances on your sleeve.)
"You may not agree with me," Stipe drawled from center stage. [Boos overwhelmed by shouts of KERRY! and 2 MORE WEEKS!] Then an unintelligible insult, apparently deciphered at the proscenium. Stipe, eyes peering sideways, backlighting the blue bandit mask painted across his face, replies, "I'm not afraid."
That undercurrent rippled through the evening. The band tore into some old standards, including the first track from the Document
release kicking things off -- "The time to rise has been engaged!" That was the way the set started in 1987 as well.
Everything old is new again.
While we weren't "welcomed to the occupation," we were favored with an incredibly eclectic variety of songs. Many were from the new release, and were apparently unfamiliar to most people in the audience. But when they connected, the room was afire with enthusiasm. The crowd lept, screamed, sang, danced, wiggled, and craned their necks for better views. It was standing room only, save for a few times when they would indulge their most moody, introspective material. Mike Mills wore a rhinestone studded Manuel jacket, and took center-stage to sing "Rockville" in tribute to the late Jack Emerson, who was the local music hero that opened his home to R.E.M. back in the days when they were playing the quasi-legendary Cantrell's. Peter Buck looked every inch the rock star, and shredded the Gretsch Country Gentleman for the solo in "Walk Unafraid."
Chet Atkins smiled from beyond. (Y'all have never played the Ryman before, huh? High time.)
Ken Stringfellow (Posies, Big Star) and Scott McAughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) were there in suport. They were constantly shifting positions onstage, and switching instruments. The only guy that didn't take another shift was Bill Riefen (Ministry, NIN), who capably handled the material, rather than providing the sort of programmed/thudding soundtrack one might expect.
Stipe tore the head off of "Life and How to Live It" to wind out the set. I lost my mind at that point.
He is obviously more comfortable in his own skin these days -- and their love for the material, their love for each other shone through every minute of the performance. It was a triumph.
Begin The Begin
So Fast So Numb
Boy In The Well
I've Been High
Make It All Okay
The One I Love
(Don't Go Back To) Rockville
She Just Wants To Be
Losing My Religion
Life And How To Live It
What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
Leaving New York
I Wanted To Be Wrong
I'm Gonna DJ
Man On The Moon
Total time: approx. 2hr 30min