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- R.E.M. »
Sometimes it takes a bit of perspective. Three days after watching one of the greatest bands of all time in a 4,000-capacity sweatbox, DiS stands watching the same band in a field in Glastonbury and it’s brilliant; tremendous; wonderful. However you realise that you saw them 72 hours ago and it was so much better. And then it hits you; you saw REM at Brixton, and it was one of the best things you will ever see inside or outside the boundaries of music. Dude, it's like seeing 'tallica in a tent.
It doesn’t matter that for the first time in their very long history they’ve made two allegedly dodgy albums in a row (yes, ‘Reveal’ was a wooden entity, but as displayed tonight, ‘Up’ is much more than most critics would have it thought of); you don’t see REM playing a ‘proper’ gig in a theatre very often; in fact, you plain just don’t see it.
Of course that would be a worthless point if Stipe, Buck and Mills weren’t still such an incredibly vital musical collective, but despite all crossing over into their forties, they are up with Radiohead as one of the greatest rock n’ roll tickets in town. See the way that Michael Stipe now takes to the stage with a graceful ease; after 20+ years, he has decided to play it relatively straight and become one of the best front men in the world, as well as one of its most enigmatic icons.
Which is strange, considering that the fabled and near-doomed Monster tour eight years ago was meant to be the peak of REM the great popular rock gods, and it seemed so much more forced, ill at ease and ill-conceived. But now, returned to the status of massive cult band, they appear to have finally come to terms with themselves as a band worthy of the accolades thrust upon them and prepared to consolidate their position with gusto. Having uncomfortably but ultimately successfully negotiated the albatross-round-the-neck of being the hippest major band in the world, they have been set free to enjoy themselves without much concern for anything as fickle as popular opinion and the crushing obligation to merely play ‘the hits’.
But of course we do get those shiny, beautiful hits, because REM’s hits are so much better than practically anybody else’s. When ‘Losing My Religion’ kicks in, jaded DiS hack here realises the reason why it is one of the most well-loved song of all time is because it is also one of the greatest. And as the sweat drips off the ceiling and onto a lumescent crowd, there’s nowhere you’d rather be. ‘Everybody Hurts’ is another such song; the simplicity of the song’s lyrics and music betrays a wonderfully observed message that 99% of the time would sound either trite or pompous. They’re just one of those bands.
As well as the mighty canon, we get a set to sate even the uber-fan; four songs from their third album ‘Fables Of The Reconstruction’ - due to it being recorded in London – are played, the best of which, ‘Life And How To Live It’ was so joyously mighty it’s quite possible that someone in the venue shat their pants. Additionally, we got ‘Pilgrimage’ from their first album ‘Murmur’ and set opener ‘Get Up’, both equally wonderful with the latter rocking seven bells out of south London. Excitingly, ‘Bad Day’, one of two gasp new songs is so punkishly brilliant (it’s like a hybrid of ‘End Of The World As We Know It…’ and The Primitives’ ‘Crash’) that it makes songs played tonight like ‘The Wake Up Bomb’ and ‘Star 69’ seem merely great. Of course, one of the key reasons for ‘Bad Day’ being so good is that mighty REM secret weapon; the Mike Mills vocal. His contribution to the song’s giant chorus (“It’s been a bad day/please don’t take my picture”) is a powerful reminder that there’s more than one great voice in the band, a fact backed up by the joyful ‘At My Most Beautiful’ and Mill’s Beach Boys ‘doo-doo-doo-waaahs’. Add to that a mesmerically poised ‘Drive’, an anthemic ‘Great Beyond’ and a barely believable ‘Man On The Moon’ and it's good night Vienna and thanks for one of the greatest shows of our lives.
The chances are, REM will never play a venue like Brixton Academy again; It’s unlikely that the band have a great deal longer to go, but they are playing two more dates in the UK this year. Go see one of the finest bands of anybody’s generation; just don’t expect it to be as good as last week’s gig. If you’re unlucky, it’ll simply only be amazing.
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