I’ll try this again. So… the show was pretty damn awesome. Our seats were shockingly good, six rows back and about ten to the left of center. (We gathered from overheard comments that most of the people around us were also from the fanclub.) The first opener was local band Little Birdie, who sounded good but a little repetitious. Their singer is like the second coming of Joan Jett though, I tell ya! Second was Bright Eyes, which – despite having seven musicians onstage – apparently consists of pretty much just the main singer/songwriter guy. When they came out the Snook leaned over to whisper, “Uh oh. I sense some emo coming!” Later we agreed that it was more “emo-billy.” Musically they were fantastic; I’m downloading some of their stuff right now. I just found some of the lyrics a little too painfully sincere. Is this really what the kids are listening to? Doesn’t anybody do irony or metaphor anymore? Singing earnestly about little black children in crumbling schools – no matter how rockin’ the background music – just makes me squirm a little. But maybe that’s just me. It could be.
Anyhoo, so then REM appeared and it seemed like the guys were in a really good mood. Michael wore a dark blue suit and tie and had the expected smear of blue goo across his eyes and forehead. (That’s him in the exceptionally bad photo I took with the Snook’s mobile, which was the only camera we had on us.) Mike wore an orange shirt and jeans; Peter wore the same loud shirt he’s been wearing since college. They played a great mix of old and new stuff and everybody seemed to be having fun. Michael engaged in more stage banter than I expected and even pulled a roadie up onstage at the end so we could all sing Happy Birthday to him. The show lasted for two hours and they sang twenty-four songs. Read on to see the playlists and more of my commentary.REM Setlist for March 31, 2005
- I Took Your Name – Really set the rockin’ tone for the evening. There were three extra musicians helping out: somebody named Bill playing drums, a guy on keyboards, and a crazy weird guy on guitar that the Snook swore up and down was Billy Connelly in disguise. But it wasn’t.
- Bad Day – Definite crowd-pleaser and quite a singalong.
- Wake-Up Bomb – Still with the rockin’.
- The Outsiders – Michael introduced this song by name from the new album.
- Maps and Legends – Talk about blowing the dust off an oldie!
- Electron Blue – Michael said this was his favorite song from the new album and that it was about “a drug made from light.”
- Electrolite – Michael made a special point of drawing our attention to Mike’s piano playing in this one.
- Strange Currencies – Michael explained that they rarely play this song live but he felt it was appropriate in Australia because singing it always reminds him of Michael Hutchence. We all spent the rest of the song wondering exactly why.
- Great Beyond – Another singalong.
- I’ve Been High – I was so surprised they played this live. I absolutely loved it. Very still, with just Michael onstage singing over the synth line. Everybody just sat down and chilled. I swear you could hear the audible sigh at the end. A nice palate cleanser.
- Leaving New York – Michael introduced this as a love song set in his second-favourite city. The “I told you I’ll love you forever and ever” part came out a lot more in the live performance and really made the song for me.
- Orange Crush – He brought out the MEGAPHONE, folks! I stared woo-ing as soon as I saw it. Utterly fantastic. We all loved it. Incidentally, Michael was having difficulty with his shirt sleeves all through the beginning of the show, mostly because he’d worn French cuffs. Eventually he told us that Peter Buck was the first man to ever wear them onstage, but now they were causing him a minor “wardrobe malfunction.” So he ended up rolling them up to his shoulders.
- I Wanted to be Wrong – Michael introduced these by saying that the guys were all from the U.S. (to some minor boos by the audience) and that these next two songs were written to protest the War in Iraq. That made people cheer. This one wasn’t too bad.
- Final Straw – I’ve never been a big fan of this song. The Snook sat down and nearly fell asleep during it.
- Imitation of Life – That’s more like it. Michael invited us to singalong with them on their “first #1 radio single in Japan!”
- The One I Love – Oddly, the only part of the song I really like is the awesome bridge, the part where everybody in the video is just bouncing around. We all jammed to that bit.
- Walk Unafraid – Very loud, rockstar version of this one.
- Losing My Religion – A crowd pleaser but a little boring, I think. It’s just so known. And nobody looks cool playing a mandolin. But the crowd seemed to love it.
So then they disappeared and we all stomped and clapped and cheered. Overhead a screen started displaying the names of all the cities they’d visited on the tour, and eventually it stopped on Sydney and we all went nuts. So they came back out for the encore…
- What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? – The high point of the show for me. I love this song. It’s just a big, loud, dumb, fun rock song. I enjoyed watching Michael’s semi-choreographed dance routine, like flapping his wrists each time he sang “shackles of youth.” He actually did a lot of dancing, overall. He still dances like a sexy marionette, shaking his goofy old man hips.
- Everybody Hurts – Ugh. Why play this live? Ever? So boring. It’s the second most boring REM song of all time, next to…
- Drive. – Kill me now. I hate this song! I know these two were radio hits, but seeing them live doesn’t really add anything. They’re boring.
- Animal – I don’t know this one that well, but it’s certainly fun watching Stipey bounce around the stage bellowing “What’s the big deal?” and “Whooooa!” like some sort of rapper.
- I’m Gonna DJ – Michael revealed that this song was original intended for the last album but it didn’t really fit. He said it was his favorite after “Electron Blue” though. I actually liked it a lot. The lyrics immediately made me think of Max. I also thought it’d be a nice fit for the Hitchhiker’s movie soundtrack. And dude, he namechecks WEBLOGS! How weird is that?
- Man on the Moon – People were screaming for “End of the World” during every break, but I’m kinda glad they didn’t play it. They’re not performing monkeys, people. I’m sure they get tired of it. This was a great final number though, especially after the mostly disappointing (to me) encore. I just wish he’d do the “Hey, baby!” bit in the Elvis voice instead of yelling it really high. That’s my favorite part.
Anyway, that’s the write-up. They’re doing another show tonight but we’ll give it a miss. I’m just happy that I finally got to see them from a great seat. (My previous REM concert experiences were from way, way far away.)