Friday, July 04, 2008

Buy the Sky and Sell the Sky



Last month, almost to the day, I flew to Minneapolis/St. Paul to spend a few days with my buddy Andie. I did the same thing last summer, it was a blast, so we decided to do it again. This time I based my trip around a concert by one of my favorite bands of all-time, R.E.M.

I have three favorite bands: The Beatles, Talking Heads and R.E.M. Half of the Beatles are dead, so I'll never get to see them live unless someone digs up the corpses of John and George and puts them onstage with Paul and Ringo. Talking Heads will never reunite because David Byrne has no interest in playing the old stuff and he and Tina Weymouth aren't exactly on the best of terms. But R.E.M., they're still around. And kicking some major ass.

They're touring for their new album Accelerate. The album's been called a return-to-form, but really it's only being called that because they've found their balls again after a few albums filled with nothing but mid-tempo sludgefests. The disc really reminds me of their 1995 album Monster, another loud-rocking group of songs. That album holds a special place for me - queue it up and it basically transports me back in time to my final year at Ball State University - but I recognize that it's not their strongest album. And neither is Accelerate. Some songs kick ass, but most of them feel undercooked, like they needed to be worked on for a few more weeks before they were recorded. It's still better than their last effort, 2004's Around the Sun.

Anyway, the concert. R.E.M. has long ignored their very early material for reasons that are inexplicable to me. Those are the songs the die-hards want to hear, not "Losing My Religion" for the 3,000th time. And while in the past they have played a few older songs from their catalog, usually they only go as far back as 1986's Life's Rich Pageant.

Thankfully, that seems to be in the past.

This show was filled with older tracks, the highlight for me being "West of the Fields" from their first album Murmur. They also did "Shaking Through" from the same album, as well as other gems from 1987's Document and the aforementioned Pageant. And, yeah, they played "Losing My Religion" too, but it was surrounded by obscure tracks, so that's alright. Needless to say, I was in full-on R.E.M. geek mode. Here's the setlist, along with what albums the songs came from:

Living Well is the Best Revenge (2008, Accelerate)
These Days (1986, Life's Rich Pageant)
Disturbance at the Heron House (1987, Document)
What's the Frequency, Kenneth? (1995, Monster)
Hollow Man (2008, Accelerate)
Shaking Through (1983, Murmur)
Man-Sized Wreath (2008, Accelerate)
West of the Fields (1983, Murmur)
Accelerate (2008, Accelerate)
Ignoreland (1992, Automatic for the People)
Star 69 (1995, Monster)
Auctioneer (1985, Fables of the Reconstruction)
Houston (2008, Accelerate)
Electrolite (1996, New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
The One I Love (1987, Document)
Final Straw (2004, Around the Sun)
Sweetness Follows (1992, Automatic for the People)
Let Me In (1995, Monster)
Walk Unafraid (1998, Up)
Horse To Water (2008, Accelerate)
Bad Day (2003, In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003)
I'm Gonna DJ (2007, R.E.M. Live)

ENCORE:
Supernatural Superserious (2008, Accelerate)
Welcome to the Occupation (1987, Document)
Losing My Religion (1991, Out of Time)
Fall on Me (1986, Life's Rich Pageant)
Man on the Moon (1992, Automatic for the People)

As you can see, there were a lot of tracks from the new album. Couple this with all the album tracks played, and you can understand why someone would be disappointed that they didn't play more "hits." It's like that Springsteen show I saw last spring; for a super-fan like me it was awesome, but for a casual fan it kind of sucked. I'm not sure what side Andie rested on. She seemed to enjoy it, but she's not a huge fan. Andie, you'll have to chime in on that one.

Other notes:

* Johnny Marr, former lead guitarist for the Smiths and current guitarist for show opener Modest Mouse, joined them for "Fall on Me." That was kind of cool to see even if he didn't really add anything to the song.

* "I'm Gonna D.J." is a stupid song but damn is it fun.

* "Man-Sized Wreath" is my favorite track off the new album. I was happy it was paired with "West of the Fields."

* Michael Stipe was all over the place, jumping up and down, throwing himself around the stage, and spazzing out for the entire show. It was easily the most animated I've ever seen the guy.

* Two bands opened: The National and Modest Mouse. The National wasn't bad, although I have to admit that the only thing I remember about their performance a month later was the lead singer telling everyone that this was their first stadium show. Modest Mouse can basically be summed up by the following words:

"AAAAAHHHHHHHHHH!!! AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!"
(Bass drum. Bass drum.)
"AAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!! AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!"
(Guitar solo.)
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!"
(Bass drum and guitar solo.)

They were kind of annoying. And they didn't even play "Float On," the only song of theirs that everyone in attendance knew.

* "Ignoreland" sticks out like a sore thumb on Automatic for the People, but it fit right in with their current material. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed that song.

* The crowd was pretty into it. At least we didn't sit down for the entire show like we did last year for The Police, which I saw in the same venue.

As for the rest of my trip to the Twin Cities, it was a great time. We went to the Walker Art Center, a huge modern art museum that included a CGI dolphin that would converse with us. (The dolphin is a movie buff. He knew what Short Circuit was.) I even took along my new camera to document the trip. However, we mainly just hung out, which is why I only have pictures of Andie's cats. At least they're cute pictures of Andie's cats.




We won't mention the bitch of a time I had getting home. Long story short: Cancellations in Chicago. Spent the night in O'Hare. Cancellations the next day. Hello, strangers, want to rent a car? OK? Let's drive home.

Fuck O'Hare International Airport.