Monday, 1 September 2008


After following them for more than 17 years (since 1991's Out of Time), I finally went to see R.E.M. in concert in the Southampton Rose Bowl on Wednesday 27th August, accompanied by C, Dr. Morris and his new (to us) girlfriend, Sarah.

For most of these 17 years, I've been a big fan of R.E.M., but since their first post-Bill Berry album, Up, I've gradually drifted from them, and I've not (yet) bought their most recent album, Accelerate. It probably reflects both a change in my musical tastes, and their weakening as a musical force. Their latter albums, while not at all bad, have lacked quite as many stand-out tracks as their earlier efforts, and there has been something of a change to their music, in part down to compensations made for Berry's absence.

Anyway, all that said, I've always heard that R.E.M. are at their best live, so there was part of me that was keen to hear them before, presumably, I wrote them off for the longer term.

Just as well that Dr. Morris prompted me about their tour.

While my Faith was wavering going into the concert, it was thoroughly restored during it, and I left completely buoyed up with R.E.M. again. They got off to a winning start for me, with their off-album single Bad Day. It's a brilliant and energetic track to begin, well, anything with, and given my wavering Faith, it was something of an electrifying start. Seconds away, and I was already singing along with them.

Wisely, while they followed this up with a new (and short) track, they kept to old favourites for the next few tracks. With What's The Frequency, Kenneth?, I was reminded again that their much maligned album Monster, is actually a secret (if belated) success, and they returned to it later with Let Me In.

They also visited my favourite album, Lifes Rich Pageant, a number of times, again reminding me why it is my favourite. Other albums, most noticeably Murmur, got surprisingly short shrift, although generally there was pretty good, and at times surprising, coverage of their back catalogue. But they weren't dwelling too much on past successes, and they performed six tracks from their latest album by the end. While I shouldn't really have been surprised, these were all pretty good, and I'll doubtless add the album on my next Amazon spree.

Two particular highlights for me were Ignoreland and Electrolite. The former is an angrily political song that stems from the ring-wing control of America from 1979 through 1992. It's rather bombastic, but I'd almost forgotten how much I love its self-recognised venom. The latter is difficult to categorise, but it's a lovely, almost existential song. A great closer for its parent album New Adventures in Hi-Fi, but an even better concert song. Although it was only the twelfth song, it was so good I could have left then and been satisfied.

In introducing the political Ignoreland, Michael Stipe gave the first of several short diatribes about the current US administration. A bit of a soft-sell at a R.E.M. concert in Europe, but still good, and entertaining, to hear R.E.M.'s views. It certainly got a lot of applause from the Rose Bowl.

After a few quirky choices, including 7 Chinese Brothers and Auctioneer (Another Engine), the band finished their main set with the excellent Orange Crush and It's The End Of The World As We Know It. Just. Brilliant.

The encore had us guessing the song that they'd finish on, Man On The Moon, and I think Sarah picked that one out. We'd also been expecting, and were rewarded with, Losing My Religion, which (unsurprisingly given its success back in 1991) was the first song of R.E.M.'s that I ever knowingly heard.

Anyway, a fantastic night out. My Faith in R.E.M. has been restored. And the whole evening was topped off nicely with a surprisingly easy return journey home.

While I was only able to reconstruct those parts of the set list that I recognised (pretty much everything bar the last two albums), the full set list is available from a number of websites and was ...

1. Bad Day
2. Living Well Is The Best Revenge
3. What's The Frequency, Kenneth?
4. Fall On Me
5. Drive
6. Man Sized Wreath
7. Begin The Begin
8. Hollow Man
9. The Great Beyond
10. Ignoreland
11. Animal
12. Electrolite
13. I'm Gonna DJ
14. Pretty Persuation
15. The One I Love
16. 7 Chinese Brothers
17. Nightswimming
18. Let Me In
19. Auctioneer (Another Engine)
20. Horse To Water
21. Orange Crush
22. It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
23. Supernatural Superserious (Encore)
24. Losing My Religion (Encore)
25. Imitation of life (Encore)
26. Man On The Moon (Encore)

In passing, the support acts were Guillemots and Editors. Both pretty good, although the latter, with a very Joy Division and Smiths influenced sound, were definitely the better of the two.


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