Friday, 14 January 2011
129, 130 REM, The Blue Aeroplanes, Newport Centre and Portsmouth Guildhall, Thursday 18 and Friday 19 May 1989
All previous standards for "live" rock band performance were shattered over two awesome nights, as REM produced two distinct but equally awe-inspiring performances to establish themselves as the premier rock band of this age.
Firstly, Newport. After missing the support band due to an extended stay in the bar with the lads admiring the, erm, "architecture", we entered the eerie atmosphere of the large capacity, and sold out, Newport Centre hall. The air was pregnant with unsure and uneasy anticipation; I was hoping for much MUCH more than my previous disappointing REM "live" experience at U2's "The Longest Day", having since then fallen in love with this band, appropriately via last year's "The One I Love". Frankly, though, no-one knew quite what to expect from this chameleonic American band!
Lights out, and the band immediately took the stage, powering straight into "Pop Song 89", the bouncy, upbeat opener to current LP "Green". A superb half hour of stunning, powerful and upbeat rock followed, before the mouth-wateringly brilliant "Swan Swan Hummingbird" completely and brilliantly changed the mood. Vocalist Michael Stipe was a commanding stage performer throughout, strikingly clad in all white and taking no shit ("don't shout at me because I'm not going to listen"). This, the more varied of the two sets, was broken up by the man's "unusual" line in between-song banter, a spontaneous encore of old standard "Summertime" ("and the living is easy..."), and a touching final reading of "Perfect Circle". I left thinking no-one has ever been that good "live" before, nor ever could be again...
Except maybe themselves! In a re-jigged and more dance-oriented set the following night at Portsmouth, REM showed they could "give it loads" as well as the next band, treating Veronica and myself and the rest of this sell-out crowd to a stunning performance of power and dynamism. "Exhuming McCarthy", a riff-tastic "Strange" and a soaring "Cuyahoga" replaced the slower numbers of last night, and provided the base of a sizzling set, with Stipe and the energetic guitarist Peter Buck - obviously a Pete Townsend fan, given some of the shapes he was throwing! - in command again.
So many memorable moments across these 2 nights; ploughing down the front of the melee and staring down Stipe during the frenzied "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" whilst singing along, Stipe urging us to boycott Exxon, the man rather embarrassingly introducing the band at Portsmouth, the brilliantly haunting guitar intro to "Feeling Gravity's Pull", the strobe light effect on the libidinously dancing Stipe during the powerful and funky "Begin The Begin", a jagged version of Mission Of Burma's classic "Academy Fight Song" (I'd wait a further 21 years to hear the original played "live"!), "I would like...you to shut up!", the stand-up comedy routine, "Orange Crush" (brilliant both nights)...
I could go on, but I think I already have. This band are set for world domination. They can do no wrong!