Last January, I camped out
for REM tickets. Through
the wee hours of the night and early morning, listening to banal conversations on bootlegs and T-shirts, my friend Sarah and I persevered. Hours later, with her parents and her sister, we had reserved section 204 row RR seats for the first big rock concert of my life May 5, 1995 at the Desert Sky Pavilion in Phoenix.
Then their drummer's head blew up.
After a cancellation, postponement and a rescheduling, REM were set to play November 4, nearly a year after listening to the fanatics in the ticket line. And, nearly a year later, I was in my plastic bucket seat which I willingly shelled out forty clams for Ÿ a football field's length away from the stage as Luscious Jackson played what was mercifully their last song. I tried to recline as much as possible, and watched the wispy pot smoke drift down towards the stage hands who were tuning REM's equipment.
Half an hour later, the crowd erupted in cheer at a darkened, empty stage. Baffled, I squinted my eyes in an attempt to see what they were cheering at: nothing. And thus began an evening of improper cheers: during "Losing My Religion"'s mandolin solo, the quiet parts to any song, at Michael Stipe's Elvis Pelvis Thrust in "Man on the Moon," and at whatever incomprehensible muddling of syllables Mr. Stipe managed to direct towards the microphone.
Anyhow, as if prompted by the crowd's foolish mistake, guitarist Peter Buck emerged from the gloom to begin "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" At least, I'm pretty sure it was him ... it was a humanoid blob dressed like the twenty-foot-tall Peter Buck being shot on video camera, beamed up to a satellite and back to the giant video screens placed around the venue to show people that yes indeed, despite your limited eyesight, your rock and roll idols have arrived and you may adore them by applauding any time they move a limb.
The relative quiet of the venue quickly disappeared as two gals and a guy behind us, prompted by the fact that there was a band playing very loudly and that most everyone around them wanted to see this band, began to talk as LOUD AS POSSIBLE ABOUT NOTHING IN PARTICULAR. I flashed them what I considered to be the look of death. Nineteen times. I made the flapping hand motion for "you are a motor-mouthed idiot, please shut the hell up," and still got no response. My companions tried similar methods with similar results. Meanwhile, REM played some songs.
From what I could see, REM is a good band live. Had I seen this show in a small club like the J Church show I had seen the previous night, my only complaint would've been the set list. The show was basically REM's hits, all the singles and a few stray album tracks, plus five new songs. The musical highlight of the evening was "Revolution," a gleeful pop throwaway that sounds like it was written in a matter of minutes. Other surprises included "Man on the Moon," despite being a fairly bland song and the audience's embarrassing gushing over Michael Stipe, it sounded great. "Wake Up Bomb," another new song, was an early standout.
Unfortunately, I can't delve much deeper musically because I was too preoccupied with trying to enjoy the show. Tours on this scale rarely make much money due to middlemen and production costs, and bands like REM don't need much album support, so I guess this tour is a gift to "the fans." It's not much of a gift (but then, I guess I'm not much of a fan) when my clearest memory of the show is a girl stumbling down my row who turned to me, let out a drunken burst of fermented breath and said "Sorry ... don't look back." Advice for life, I guess.
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