Saturday, June 28, 2008
R.E.M. @ Atlanta
We arrive in plenty of time. Early enough that we managed to get a nap before heading to the show on Saturday. The hotel was 5 minutes from the airport and 10 minutes to the venue. Perfect.
We managed to get general admission Pit tickets at Lakewood, so we wanted to actually get there pretty early this time. Of the six shows I saw, this is the only one where we went inside for any of the opening acts. We caught the last half of The National's set. Now I kind of regret not going in to see them at previous shows. I forgot how good they can be. The pit was full of people, but not too crowded, if that makes sense. We just walked in and easily walked up to the rail, kind of far off to the right. As good as our position was, we decided that we couldn't bear to sit through Modest Mouse's set, so we bailed. Based on what we heard from the concourse, we made the right choice. But as soon as MM were finished, we bolted back to the pit. We ended up about 2/3 of the way back (still in the pit, so it was still really close) just in front of Peter. Probably the equivalent of 6th row seats.
Hopes are always high for Atlanta shows. It's their hometown gig (Athens isn't far away) and there's always excitement in the air. Unfortunately, nothing really special happened, but they still put on a hell of a show.
Highlights: "Time After Time", "So Fast, So Numb", "Harborcoat", "Pretty Persuasion" and the tour debut of "Nightswimming". "Nightswimming" was especially nice. Just Mike on piano with Michael leaning against it singing. "I've Been High" was also surprisingly good. Taken out of the context of Reveal, it's a beautiful song. They went all-out with everything else - not wanting to disappoint all of the friends and family in attendance. Definitely one of the better shows of the tour. No over-the-top surprises, but a totally solid set with a bunch of chestnuts thrown in.
It turns out they oversold the pit, or people just scammed their way down. It was way too crowded. Not long after the show started they stopped letting people in the pit. That didn't go over well with people that left to use the bathroom an couldn't get back to their seats. It was pretty packed in there, but it didn't really bother us all that much. We ended up jostled around until we were in the very back, but pretty much center stage. That was fine by us - both being pretty tall. I felt kind of bad for the shorter folks though.
Bill Berry could be seen in the wings, but there was no big reunion. Bummer. Also surprising was the lack of "Radio Free Europe". It's a rare one, to be sure, but it pops up once in a while. Considering how deep in the catalog they've been going on this tour, I thought for sure it would pop up in Atlanta. No such luck.
On the way back to the car i happened to run into the girls I was sitting next to at the Jones Beach show. We got to hang with them for a bit and compare notes on the other shows we'd seen in the last few weeks. That was kind of fun.
After the show I met up with a bunch of my fellow on-line R.E.M. freaks that I've been communicating with for the last 15 years or so. Thanks for pointing out to Dinger that I'm not alone out there. These folks had come from as far away as Chicago, California and even Ireland. They made DC seem almost local. See - I could be worse. Great folks. A pleasure to meet you all, finally.
A traditional late-night breakfast at the Waffle House (conveniently located on Bobby Brown Blvd.!) and an uneventful trip home on Sunday.
Rumor has it there will be another let to the US tour. My wallet won't allow me to go to these lengths again, but I'm sure I'll pop up at a few shows.
Here's the setlist that a friend got. Of the songs in blue, they only played "Pretty Persuasion" and "Nightswimming".
All photos by Dinger
Up bright and early the next morning. Dinger has to get home and back to work. I jump in a cab and head to the train station. A short ride later and I'm in NYC.
I meet up with my old college friend Kevin for lunch at Tracks, right in Penn Station. mmmm...calamari. A drink or two later and it's time to check-in at my hotel. I managed to get a room at the Hotel Chelsea. Yes - that Hotel Chelsea. The one where Sid killed Nancy , where Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe lived together and numerous other writers, musicians and artistic-types have lived over the years. I could easily have spent the whole day in the hotel, just looking at all of the art that covers every inch of the place. The fact that it was dirt cheap and in a perfect location made it a no-brainer as the place to stay. We took a handful of pictures and headed back out.
From there we proceeded to drink our way around Manhattan, eventually ending up down at the Seaport. It started out great - just us, a beautiful day on the deck and control over the jukebox. Within an hour or so we were surrounded by stockbroker types and the women who throw themselves at them. Apparently the power tie is making a comeback. Who knew? I've never felt so uncomfortable in a bar. Time to go. A no-go at some rooftopk Kevin wanted to show me. We ended up a block or two away from The Garden at a bar showing R.E.M.'s Perfect Square DVD on about 6 big screens. Perfect. A few more drinks - including a couple bought for us by a rather angry young woman - and we were more than a little plastered.
I love Madison Square Garden. There's just something special about it. Easily one of my favorite places to see a concert. The show itself is kind of a big blur. 11th row on the right. Nothing special song-wise. The big tour debut was "Leaving New York". eh. Appropriate, but not my favorite. Certainly not an exciting choice. The show kind of dragged in the middle, with too many slow/mid-tempo songs. The last half was just kick-ass rocking though. "Driver 8", "Harborcoat", "Horse To Water", "The One I Love", "Pretty Persuasion", "Orange Crush"...Yowza! The encore was identical to Philly's, sans Eddie Vedder. That's fine. I'll take "Begin The Begin" any way I can get it.
Back downstairs to Tracks for more completely unnecessary drinks. After a while, Kevin looks at his watch and says "Sh*t! My train! Gotta go!" and he ran off - never to be seen again. I stumbled back towards the hotel, stopping for a much needed slice of pizza on the way. Back at the hotel I took a ton of pictures, wandering around, trying to not wake anyone up. Trying to imagine who used to stay in all of these rooms, and who was there now. What a landmark this place is.
Next morning a quick walk around Chelsea and back to the train station. Back to DC by about 4:30.
Probably my least favorite of the shows I saw, but still a great time. I need to get back to NYC soon. Hopefully for more than 24 hours next time.
6/19/08 Madison Square Garden - New York, NY
1. Living Well Is the Best Revenge
2. These Days
3. What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
4. Bad Day
6. Hollow Man
8. Man-Sized Wreath
9. Leaving New York
10. Disturbance At The Heron House
13. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
14. Driver 8
16. The One I Love
17. Until The Day Is Done
18. Let Me In
19. Horse To Water
20. Pretty Persuasion
21. Orange Crush
22. I'm Gonna DJ
23. Supernatural Superserious
24. Losing My Religion
25. Begin The Begin
26. Fall On Me
27. Man On The Moon
R.E.M. @ Philly
The drive to Philly was uneventful. Beautiful day. Our hotel was right on the river. However, our room was in the back, providing not one, but TWO beautiful views of I-95. Excellent. We soon met up with Bob - Don's best friend from Dead-days past. Quite possibly the most fun person on the planet. Despite our begging, Bob wouldn't be going to the show with us. Oh well. He'll meet us afterwards. The venue is only about 8 miles away - a straight shot across Philly. We figured it would take about 15-20 minutes - almost all Interstate travel. An hour and a half later we manage to park about a mile from the venue. Ugh. No time to stop for even a beer - it's showtime.
We got to our seats (the worst of the tour) with about 5 minutes to spare. We were waaaay in the back on the far right aisle. I didn't really care. It made me think of all those Dead shows where all that mattered was getting inside. We were on the aisle in the front row of our section, so we had plenty of room to jump around and dance. The Mann is very much like Wolf Trap. Not really a bad seat in the house. Not so bad after all.
The come out blasting with "These Days", "Living Well..." and ..."Kenneth". Killer - Everyone is up and dancing and having a blast. Barely taking a second to say "Hello", they jump right into "Wolves, Lower." Son-of-a-b*tch. This is why I go to so many shows. I f--king LOVE that song. I can't believe that one is over 25 years old. They rocked-it like it was brand new. The trip to Philly has already paid off. Soon we get the tour debut of "Turn You Inside-Out" - oddly, sans megaphone, which was on stage the whole time. Nice surprise. Other highlights included the US debut of "Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance" - a song they worked on at the Dublin rehearsals last year, but didn't make the cut for Accelerate. They changed it around a little, but it was still quite good. "The Great Beyond" and "Departure" (a Dinger fave) made rare appearances for this tour. Lots of surprises tonight. Lots of fun.
The encore seemed pretty standard. After 2 songs we hear "Please welcome to the stage..."...Crap - it's almost over. Stipe is going to introduce Johnny Marr, play "Fall On Me" and "Man On The Moon" and it's time to go.
"Please welcome to the stage Mr. Eddie Vedder."
It seems Pearl Jam was in town for a couple nights and stopped by to watch. The crowd is f--king losing it. Peter jumps right in with the riff to "Begin The Begin" and they're off. Eddie trades verses with Michael and we're treated to possibly the biggest highlight of the tour. Amazing. I almost felt bad for Johnny Marr being introduced next. I wouldn't want to follow that one.
Back downtown - a trip that took about 12 minutes this time - more drinks with Bob and a late night breakfast got us back to our room at about 4am. Completely wired and exhausted at the same time. Another great trip with more to come.
6/18/08 Mann Center - Philadelphia, PA
1. These Days
2. Living Well Is the Best Revenge
3. What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
4. Wolves, Lower
5. Man-Sized Wreath
6. Turn You Inside-Out
7. Imitation Of Life
8. Staring Down The Barrel
10. Bad Day
11. Hollow Man
12. The Great Beyond
15. Walk Unafraid
16. The One I Love
17. Find The River
18. Let Me In
20. Life And How To Live It
21. Orange Crush
22. I'm Gonna DJ
23. Supernatural Superserious
24. Losing My Religion
25. Begin The Begin (w/ Eddie Vedder)
26. Fall On Me (w/ Johnny Marr)
27. Man On The Moon (w/ Johnny Marr)
Sunday, June 15, 2008
The Storm, It Came Up Strong
So Friday comes along - the day before the show - and I'm still riding high off the buzz of the last 2 shows. However, I'm getting bummed about my ticket not being all that close. I'm getting spoiled. I start checking Ticketmaster. It looks like they already released decent seats, but mine was still better. Oh well. But I didn't give up. I kept checking throughout the day. Sure enough - mid-afternoon - they dropped. 2nd row center. Thank you ticket gods. I emailed my friend in NY and told him to go to TM right NOW. He scored. 2nd row for him and his wife, too, just one section to the left. Awesome. Of course, now I'm stuck with my original ticket. Oops. I ended up eating it. Oh well. It's worth it to be just a few feet from the stage, right in front of Michael. Don't tell Dinger.
One thing I didn't even consider was the weather. It's been sunny and hell-hot all week. I also didn't take into account that Jones Beach isn't a shed - it's a real amphitheater. It's not covered or protected from the elements at all. Accuweather said it might rain a little later in the evening, so my friends lent me a rain poncho - just in case.
Accuweather can suck it. During the last part of Modest Mouse's set the whole freaking sky opened up with an absolutely horrendous thunderstorm. We found shelter under a concessions tent that actually had "doors" (flaps, really) that closed and protected us for a while. It poured and poured and poured. Eventually, the water behind the concession stand got to be about 6-inches deep. The workers grabbed the cash registers and ran off, never to be seen again. It didn't appear to be letting up. Suddenly, there was a HUGE lightning strike, so close and loud that it caused most of the people in the tent to scream and duck down. I've heard that the top of the balcony of the theater got hit. Who knows. Too close for comfort. That's for sure. Flashbacks to the Tibetan Freedom gig at RFK 10 years ago - almost to the day. Scary stuff.
Most of the thunder and lightning slowed down a little after 9:00. At around 9:30 they announced that they'd try to get started by 10:10. The rain was still coming down pretty good, but the danger of imminent death seemed to have passed by then. We went to our seats at about 10:00. I'm not sure what time it was when they finally came on, but I guess the show was delayed by a little over an hour. Better than a cancellation. Fingers-crossed that the storm didn't return.
The torrential downpour finally slowed up. The rest of the night was just an annoying, steady rain. I had managed to stay dry in that tent, but 5 minutes in the rain and I was pretty much soaked - even with the poncho.
The band was set-back into the stage more than usual - for obvious reasons. Stipe came right out front though and the band jumped right into a cover of CCR's "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?" Nice. They've played this before, but it's really rare these days. I remember seeing it once on the Green tour, but haven't thought much about it since. The song was sloppy and fun - a theme that would continue throughout the night - and a nice acknowledgment of the mess we're all in. With barely a pause they went right into "So. Central Rain" next. Perfect. When they were done with that one, Stipe told us they had considered playing "I'll Take The Rain" next, but "...it's 7-minutes long, slow and it just plods along. Nobody wants to hear that tonight." (I wish someone had told them that same thing when they were making Reveal, but I digress.)
The regular show picked up from there. Did I mention the rain? Yeah - still pouring. But Micheal stayed out front the whole time. Except for the occasional loose footing, he did his best to just pretend the rain wasn't an issue. Eventually, Mills came out, too - running around his side of the stage giving everyone a helluva show. Peter was a bit more tentative, but made his way up front a couple times.
Despite being in the second row, the rain made taking pictures difficult. I'm terrible in the best of conditions. The rain made it nearly impossible. Plus I didn't want to ruin my camera. Of the few pics I took, this is the only one that's even presentable. Note the guy behind Michael mopping the floor in the middle of the show.
Michael said he felt bad for some of the soaking wet people up front and decided to give out about a dozen t-shirts. Did I mention the rain? Still pouring. Did I mention that Stipe is endorsing Obama? Yeah - They were all Obama t-shirts.
We got "1,000,000" again. Amazing. I love that song. I could hear that every night. But for the most part, they played it safe with the setlist tonight. Something distracted Michael and he started laughing during the final "I'm out of here" during "Electrolite." Since that's the very end of the song, he just shook his head and laughed it off. Peter wasn't having any of that though. He made Michael go up to the mic and say it again. OK - "I'm out of here." I couldn't tell if Peter was mad or joking around. I love it when little breakdowns like that happen.
They soon got around to "Let Me In", using the same setup as the other cities. It was at that point it hit me. This is one of those songs that shows up in the same spot every night. They shouldn't be playing this until 4-5 songs from now. They're going to give us a short show. Sure enough - 3 more songs and they were done with the main set.
But after "I'm Gonna DJ" they just kind of stood around looking at each other. Michael eventually went over to talk to Peter and Scott. Everyone nodded their heads in agreement and Michael comes back to center stage, telling us that they're not going to do the encore-thing. Rather than make us stand in the rain while they run off-stage for a few minutes (Did I mention the rain? Yeah - Still pouring) they decided to just proceed. That is - as long as it's OK with Mike Mills. He said it was fine.
So Michael says to just pretend we've been applauding for a few minutes, that they've come back - looking all refreshed, with lots of drama in the air about what's left to come. The crowd cheers wildly, Michael says something like "Hey - Thanks - We're R.E.M. Here we go." and they jump right into "Supernatural Superserious". While Peter was getting his mandolin ready for "Losing My Religion", Michael takes his lyric sheets that he usually throws into the crowd, hands them to the guy in front of me and says "Here - just pass these around to everyone that didn't get an Obama t-shirt." The guy turned around and handed me the lyric sheet for "Losing My Religion". Finally. After years of being a few feet out-of-reach I got one of these things. Thanks, random front-row guy. I folded it up and put it in my rather soaked pocket, because (as you know) it was still raining. That explains why the page is such a mess.
"Losing My Religion" was fine, but then they stopped for another conference. Michael comes back and says (paraphrased) "OK - I swore I'd never do this again, but we're gonna try it. Keep in mind this really hasn't been rehearsed at all." One of them could be heard saying "How does it start?", which had the others laughing. Before you know it - they're playing "It's The End Of The World As We Know It". They get about 80% through it before there's some miscue (I'm not sure if it was Stipe or the drummer), and at that point the song completely fell apart. Peter throws his hands in the air and the song collapses. Awesome. Everyone seemed to think it was hilarious except for Peter, who looked annoyed as hell. I'm starting to think Peter's turning into a cranky old man. Lighten up.
"Fall On Me" and "Man On The Moon" (both with Marr) were good, as usual. I almost want them to start substituting these two with something else. They're almost becoming stale.
Did I mention the rain? Yeah - It finally stopped in the middle of "Man On The Moon".
So we got a short show by about 4-5 songs. But it was a rather unique one, to say the least. I still thought it was a blast, despite the rain. My friends were thrilled with it, too.
The band is taking a few days off. Philly is next - on Wednesday. Three shows left in the tour. I'm hitting them all.
Update: Here's a short clip of "Have You Ever Seen The Rain?". You can see how hard it's raining when they turn the lights up.
R.E.M. @ Merriweather
I love Merriweather. I've been coming here since I was a kid. The transition since Seth took over is impressive. Anyone that thinks Merriweather is a dump or a terrible place for a show probably hasn't been to many sheds. Merriweather is a jewel and we're lucky to have it. Yes, Wolf Trap is nicer, but it has a different vibe to it and it's not really suited for a big rock show.
We heard Modest Mouse while wandering around. I don't care for them, but the kids seem to love them. shrug. Haven't made it to see The National yet, but I've seen them before. Great band, but I just don't like getting to shows that early.
We settled into our 5th row seats in plenty of time. Before we knew it, they were on-stage, Stipe still wearing that suit, blasting out "Finest Worksong". Not my favorite song on record, but it's a great opener live. That first chord hits you like a brick wall and says "We're not f--king around here". It gets every one off their asses, up and singing along. Being near DC, Michael, shockingly, had lots of political things to say throughout the evening. He started by telling us they were going to play 3 political songs in a row, to get them out of the way. The first was the "Ignoreland" I was hoping for. I had written this one off years ago. I was thrilled when I heard they were starting to play it live. Nice, angry song. That was followed by the not-often-played "Man-Sized Wreath" and "Little America", from Reckoning. Little America is one of those songs I never thought I'd see again. Holy cow. What a barn-burner of a song this is. I was jumping around like crazy. Interesting that Michael didn't bother to come up with a replacement for "Jefferson" in the lyrics. He just kind of mumble through it, sticking his tongue out and singing "blaughraugh I think we're lost!". Except for the final chorus when he said "Washington, I think we're lost!", which helped emphasize the political meaning of the song. One of the many highlights of this show.
"Houston" continues the political commentary, which seems to get more and more blatant as the night goes on. Stipe introducing this one as the administration's pathetic reaction to Katrina. Ouch. The mid-set highlight was easily "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville", with Mills singing lead, sporting a spiffy cowboy hat. A hit song, an old-favorite, referencing a local town made for perhaps the biggest sing-a-long of the night. Always fun to hear - even with the miscue that provided a few shaky musical moments near the end. Nobody cared. Mike got a huge reaction from the crowd at the end - probably the biggest applause of the evening.
"Pop Song 89" was next and was a huge surprise. The tour debut for this one. Michael dancing around like in the video, shimmying around and shaking it for us all - holding his nose during the "Should we talk about the government" line. I forgot to mention "Let Me In" in the Raleigh review. It's a staple on this tour, but it's beautifully done. Rather than the solo guitar onslaught we got on the Monster tour, they're now performing it with 3 acoustics and a piano. Michael sings with his back to the crowd, but the screens show him from the front. It's a simple, but impressive effect. This version focuses on how powerful the lyrics are, without getting overpowered by the guitars or directly focusing on what Michael's doing while singing. The song is about Kurt Cobain. In fact - the guitar used on the Monster tour belonged to Kurt. Having just finished reading Heavier Than Heaven, this one hits me a little more than I would have expected. Beautifully done.
Winding down the set - the one-two punch of "These Days" and "Orange Crush" was just amazing. "These Days" is one of their hardest-hitting, balls-out rockers. Following that immediately with "Orange Crush" had everyone jumping around, clapping and singing along in a big way. Wow. That may well have been the highlight of the show for me. It's the perfect example of how R.E.M. is still a kick-ass rock band.
The encore was nice, but nothing really special setlist-wise, with the exception of the not-played-often "Mr. Richards", which was dedicated to Dick Cheney. Johnny Marr sat-in on "Fall On Me" again, along with "Man On The Moon". He's been pretty much inaudible though, so there's not much to say about that.
Oh yeah - Stipe makes no secret of his endorsement of Obama. Tonight he made a dramatic display of putting an Obama pin on the lapel of his suit. A surprising amount of boos for that move.
Another fantastic show. Outside of the new stuff, it looks like anything goes. Can't wait for Jones Beach on Saturday.
Photos by Dinger.
Friday, June 13, 2008
R.E.M. in Raleigh
Things weren't much better overnight. No sleep. Sick. Weak. By morning I could barely cross the room without needing to rest. I didn't feel quite as sick, but I felt really, really weak and tired. Making it worse, I was supposed to drive down to Raleigh that morning to go see R.E.M. It was becoming painfully obvious that I wasn't going to be able to drive myself down there.
Dinger was having none of that. There was no way he was going to let me miss the return of R.E.M. Partly because he knew how much it meant to me, and partly because he knows that I'd be impossible to live with if I missed it. I can be a real bitch sometimes. Anyway, Dinger - my hero - volunteered to drive me down to Raleigh for the show. What a guy. I slept on and off for most of the drive. I gradually started feeling better. By the time we got to NC I was able to eat (for the first time in about 24-hours). By the time we got to the hotel I was actualy feeling pretty decent. Now...On to the show.
We made it a point to get there late. It was even hotter in Raleigh than DC. At one point the thermometer in my car said it was 108-degrees. I don't think that was quite right, but it was definitely about 100. I didn't want to relapse because I'm sitting in the heat watching the openers, so we got there about halfway into Modest Mouse's set. By now I'm about 70% back to normal.
Who knew that Row F was the second row? And the first row consisted of exactly 4 folding chairs, 2 of which were never occupied, so I had a completely unobstructed view, just to the left of Mike Mills. Excellent! We managed to find Dinger a seat in the same section - about 15 rows back. Not bad at all.
R.E.M. walked on stage and in less than 10 seconds they were cranking out "Harborcoat". Holy freaking crap. I haven't seen them play this since 1986. I suddenly forgot all about being sick. They followed up with a few of the regular workhorses from this tour - which all sounded great. Then Stipe says "Hey you people on the lawn - check this shit out!" and then they bust into "1,000,000". Are you kidding me? I think my head was ready to explode. I won't go track-by-track, but they just never let up all night. They played at least one song from every album - From Chronic Town through Accelerate. The new stuff is fast, hard and tight. None of that "oh-it's a new song - let's make a beer run" stuff. The new songs rock and they rock hard. As if that wasn't enough, the encore included "Pretty Persuasion", quite possibly the song that turned me into an R.E.M. freak back in 1984. Stipe introduced it by saying it's "about growing up queer in the south." You go, Michael! Want more? How about Johnny Marr coming out and sitting in on "Fall On Me"? How freaking cool is that? Then Stipe introduces 2 dudes to sit-in for the next song, which he dedicated to his sister. The song? "Sitting Still" - one of the 2 oldest songs R.E.M. ever recorded. The 2 dudes? F--king Mitch Easter and Don Dixon. The two guys primarily responsible for R.E.M.'s early sound. It doesn't quite rank up there with Bill Berry sitting in the last time I saw them here, but it's pretty damn close.
An amazing show, to be sure. Thank God for Dinger, who got me down there when I really felt miserable. He's right - I would have been a disaster to live with, if I had missed this one. To top it off, he drove us home the next day, too. What a guy.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
My summer concert season officially begins tonight with Swervedriver @ 9:30.
Death Cab tomorrow.
R.E.M. + The National + Modest Mouse 6 times over the next 2 weeks.
Pearl Jam + Ted Leo + Mission Of Burma + a few more before the month is out.
And that's just June. It's shaping up to be quite the summer. Bring it on.