Friday, June 20, 2008

R.E.M. Prove Their Legendary Status, 6.19.08

New York's Madison Square Garden was the place to be Thursday night, thanks to a brilliant performance by the legendary R.E.M. Featuring a lively light show, funky camera work relayed on projection screens, and a hefty dose of biting political commentary courtesy of singer Michael Stipe, the concert proved that the band still knows exactly how to hold a crowd's attention.

Stipe was in top form throughout the night, dressed in a sharp suit while lithely dancing around the stage, smiling and occasionally making self-deprecating remarks. "This song is like from the year 1740," he joked while introducing "Ignoreland" from 1992's Automatic for the People, and at another point, he even asked one of the audience members if he needed earplugs since he looked so "miserable."

While R.E.M. did play a good amount of material from their latest album, Accelerate, they also threw in some old favorites and even some lesser-known tracks. The band actually played three songs from 1984's Reckoning, with bass player Mike Mills singing and taking center stage for "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville." Newer songs such as "Man-Sized Wreath," "I'm Gonna DJ," and "Supernatural Superserious" fared well as they were packed with an extra dose of energy that made them sound even better live. Stipe's voice was incredibly clear and sounded remarkably unchanged as it resonated throughout the venue.

Of course, classic hits such as "The One I Love" and "Losing My Religion" were greeted with some of the most excited cheers heard during the night. I have to admit that cliche as it may seem, hearing thousands of people sing along to those songs was incredible, and a perfect indication of why major arena shows can be a ton of fun even when you don't have the best seats in the house.

Though he was very much the rock star, striking grandiose poses while performing some of the band's biggest hits, Stipe also remained humble and credited other talents. He gave multiple shout outs to the night's opening acts, Modest Mouse and The National, even commenting that he found it hard not to steal ideas from them because they were "just that good." And he also gave concertgoers some love towards the end of the show, asking for the house lights to go on so that he could see his "people."

Former The Smiths-guitarist Johnny Marr — now a member of Modest Mouse — was invited onstage for the last portion of the encore. As a fan of both The Smiths and R.E.M., it was really thrilling for me to see Marr alongside Peter Buck, considering this was also my first R.E.M. show. The concert finally came to an end with an exhilarating rendition of "Man on the Moon," and judging by the smiles on people's faces as they left the venue, it was obvious that they had indeed been "having fun."

Overall, it was just a really great night for music fans, as the previously mentioned opening acts also put on some very strong performances. Brooklyn's The National went on at 7 p.m. sharp and while the crowd was only just assembling at this time, the band received a very positive reaction during their 10-song set. Each song was accented by singer Matt Berninger's rich baritone and gloriously textured instrumentals. Cheers were audible as the band launched into "Fake Empire," the opener from their latest album, Boxer. And in a moment that foreshadowed some of Stipe's later political commentary, Berninger said that their last song — "Mr. November" — was "for Barack."

Modest Mouse also kept the entertainment going before R.E.M took the stage. Avoiding their biggest hit "Float On" during their set, the band did play material from their latest album, along with songs like "Dance Hall" and "Satin in a Coffin." The set was peppered with a liberal use of the banjo, two drum kits, and Johnny Marr's guitar work. At one point, maracas were literally flying through the air so that they could be used intermittently during one of the songs.

Though all three bands represent slightly different eras of music, all were able to put on cohesive shows that highlighted their strengths, making it an impressive lineup worth the ticket price. And though they've been around for years, even releasing some poorly-received material, one thing was certain after seeing R.E.M. — they are still a band that should be seen at least once in one's lifetime.

(You may also view this review here).

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