Thursday, 29 July 2010

409 REM, Wilco, London Earl's Court, 23 June 1999

First gig ever for me at Earl's Court; parked at Hammersmith after a good run, following an idea from Ady for a short-cut which worked, for once! Into the cavernous venue - apparently a 20,000 capacity! - for eats before support band Wilco, who despite their Country rock reputation, came across more like Prefab Sprout crossed with Deacon Blue. AOR, dull and disappointing. I popped down the front to try - in vain, as it turned out - to meet up with my brother, happening into the enclosure at the front. This was a 3,000 capacity, first come first served enclosure, so we all piled in there for a much closer view!

REM came on to a predictable rapturous welcome at 8.40, opening with the moody "Lotus", then kicking into life with a dynamic and well-rocking "What's The Frequency Kenneth". 3 more numbers in, vocalist Michael Stipe announced, "we're going back, back, back for this one," and astonishingly played "Sitting Still", an insistent jangle-fest from 1981's debut "Murmur" album! Another couple of numbers later, a stunning "The One I Love" saw me piling into the moshpit.

Musically, REM were damn near perfect tonight. The acoustics fitted the band dynamics perfectly, and the 3 backing instrumentalists (including a black-suited former Posie Ken Stringfellow) backed up the REM core of Buck, Mills and Stipe seamlessly. Michael himself was a joy to watch; an offbeat, slightly camp yet enchanting and gregarious frontman, completely fucking up a joke about an elephant and a mouse (!). And the hits kept coming! The set was rather splendidly planned and paced, contrasting frenetic and rocky moments with their more introspective and moodier numbers. The superb harmonies of "At Your Most Beautiful" and the harsh rock riffery dynamics of "Finest Worksong" were set highlights for me, as was (once again!) set closer "Man on The Moon", which had the whole joint jumping!

The best was yet to come, however, as the 4 song encore (after a 1 3/4 set which flew by) featured an astonishing "Cuyahoga" from my favourite REM album, "Life's Rich Pageant", and the thrilling amphetamine rush of "It's The End Of The World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)", the climax of which saw the guy in front of me catching Stipe's hurled microphone, and me, myself and 2 others providing karaoke for 20,000! A splendid gig by a band who tonight demonstrated that rumours of their demise, following drummer Bill Berry's departure, were greatly exaggerated. This show knocked the slight disappointment of the "Monster" tour (gig 300) for six, as REM re-established their reputation as America's most enduring, consistent and intelligent rock band.

Had a bit of an egress-mare afterwards, however, as the venue cleared and we were held in a people crush for 15 minutes to keep the traffic flowing (!), before the crowd sensibly took matters into their own hands and ignored the remarkably stupid police and security forces. A little thought and planning could have prevented such a farcical situation. However it didn't throw much of a dampener on the night, a night which belonged to REM!

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