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Everybody Here Comes from Somewhere

June 20, 2008

Last night I saw R.E.M. play at Madison Square Garden. It was the first time I’d seen them in concert since the summer of 1999. They played these songs:

Living Well Is The Best Revenge
These Days
What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
Bad Day
Drive
Hollow Man
Ignoreland
Man-Sized Wreath
Leaving New York
Disturbance At The Heron House
Houston
Electrolite
(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
Driver 8
Harborcoat
The One I Love
Until The Day Is Done
Let Me In
Horse To Water
Pretty Persuasion
Orange Crush
I’m Gonna DJ

Supernatural Superserious
Losing My Religion
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Man On The Moon

It was a great show. Lots of old chestnuts, including three songs from Reckoning, my dark-horse favorite early-period album of theirs, and “Let Me In,” off of 1995’s much-maligned Monster, done up in multiple acoustic guitar and organ (the original is just a ton of melodic feedback). Michael Stipe is a consummate showman. The crowd was pretty good, but you could tell some people were annoyed that they weren’t playing “their hits” (i.e., “Losing My Religion,” which they did play during the encore, thus allowing the two mooks in front of me to leave).

Which kind of leads me to this: To have such a huge fanbase, even if it’s leftover from the mid-90s when they had hit albums Automatic for the People and Out of Time, is bizarre for a band as weird as R.E.M. I mean they are a really fucking weird band: They are dorks. Weird dorks. Mike Mills is a dork, the kind of guy that the mook in front of me probably used to beat up in high school. Michael Stipe is gay — not usually a cheered-for-by-jocks demographic — and sings about summer camp and aluminum tasting like fear. I suppose Peter Buck is relatively normal. But how did this band ever get this big?

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