Sunday, June 22, 2008

R.E.M. (MSG, June 19)

Back in the early nineties, Michael Stipe would talk in interviews about hanging out with the late River Phoenix. He would usually bring up that River always wore his sunshades inside, as if River was trying to hide. Or to keep the world out.

For the last half dozen times I've seen R.E.M. live over the past 7 years, Stipe has worn his Daryl Hannah replicant makeup. It, for all intents, served the same purpose as River's sunshades. This Thursday, he left it off.

In fact, Stipe at Madison Square Garden didn't --

- Strip

- Mope

- Read his lyrics from a nightstand

What he and Peter and Bill (and Scott and Bill) did was rock. Rock a very large room for two hours. It was great. And it was very different than the R.E.M. shows we'd been used to.

The post - millennial concerts up until now all seemed to be (in retrospect) performed almost in defense of the material on Up, on Reveal, on Around the Sun. Throughout, the band was trying to conjure a moment of transcendent beauty with new songs like High Speed Train, or Falls to Climb. R.E.M. wanted to prove so badly that they still had it. And everyone had just shown up for a rock concert.

And that disconnect, between people in their late twenties and thirties, who associated the music with their youth, and the band on stage who desperately wanted late career legitimacy (the kind U2 enjoys in thier third decade of performing) directly lead to the Stipe & Co. of old. I'm a serious fucking lyrical master -- see my music stand. I'm a record company whore -- here, I lost my shirt. I'm deep -- you can't see my eyes. And maybe I can't see you.

Needless to say, that's all disappeared. On Thursday, the house lights were up more than they'd ever been, and you felt like the band really saw the audience this time. And the audience really saw them. Accelerate was a reinvigorating album (and tour) on so many levels. Foremost, it redefined the band: R.E.M. is a quirky, unpretentious, ridiculous, angry, political rock band. The most important word is "rock". It's good to have you back, boys.

(image from workinpana)

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