Monday, April 16, 2007

From The Fanboy Archive - What Noisy Cats Are We

My dream job in 1986 was rock critic. You'd get in free to all of the rock and roll shows. You'd get a mailbox full of promo material every day. You'd get to praise what you liked and slag what you hated. Consider yourselves warned: the following is an attempt at rock and roll criticism from 1986. I thought I'd shop this review of R.E.M.'s Nashvile stop, of their Lifes Rich Pageant tour, to the local newspapers, but I never did. There's a shelf life to concert reviews. They need to be either consumed right then and there or left to ferment in a shoebox. I'd say this review is ripe enough; plus it continues the R.E.M. trajectory from last week.

9-10-86 R.E.M. at the Grand Old Opry

I thought damn this is gonna be a good night. It better be...I paid $15 for a shirt.

Dayglo windowpanes shined as a gesture of "hope despite the times." The black hush was on everybody's lips; anticipation mixed within. It seemded the house lights had been off for weeks. Reverence mixed with pageantry in this church that R.E.M. would build. The lights shimmered and then the stage became an emblazoned altar as R.E.M. took the stage.

Rapidly I moved as bodies overturned with the seating now an afterthought; just a contrivance to slow the audience down. The fans jumped and somersaulted toward the stage to worship at the feet of the club crawlers turned messiahs of the new American music. Flashbulbs popped like late season fireflies to the strain of "These Days" while our ears and hearts got rearranged. The floor was shaking and pitching. The dancing was contagious. The dancing was ritual.

Michael Stipe looked like a chimney sweep with his frock coat and top hat. He shadow boxed the microphone stand. He stood between songs with his arms flailing. He twitched and swayed - an advert for the amphetamine industry of America. He barked into the mike (Michael at the mike) and jumped into the drunken crowd. He was the perfect showman alive with electric eccentricity and good time fun.

His wonderful voice was in superior form. Especially touching was "The Flowers Of Guatemala" - a song he introduced as "a nice quiet tune about genocide." He exhorted us to worship Popeye and just generally cut up. He was the preacher for the evening while his bandmates played the role of church deacons whose role was to rock.

The whirling dervish stage left was Peter Buck who played and jumped, kicked, and danced all night. The pictures in the magazines don't lie; his hair is now down to his shoulders and he dresses like a rock star in a long, flowing, frilly white shirt and black jeans. Hell, he is a rock star so he can dress the part as long as he plays that Rickenbacker. He's the guitar hero of the American underground and he sounded great even if he did need the help of another guitarist, Buren Fowler, for many of the new songs.

What about the normal one; shy Mike Mills. He looked like he was having a blast. I'd heard that he was the best partier of the band and he made more trips to his beverage container than anybody else to theirs. It didn't hurt his voice as he provided beautiful harmonies throughout the night that sounded better than the records. One of the highlights of the night was when he moved to center stage to sing lead on The Clique's "Superman" at the urging of Michael Stipe, "Shut up and do the song!" Arms pointed to the sky in the classic Superman flying pose; we were all Superman as Mike Mills smiled at us.

There was a running comedic debate between Mills and Stipe about the piece of the Ryman stage included on the stage of the Grand Old Opry. Mills waxed rhapsodic about Patsy Cline having stood upon it, while Stipe snorted and retorted that Barbara Mandrell had also stood there and Conway Twitty had sweated there. Mills grew tired of the jibes and he went and stood triumphantly on it. Stipe later stuck one foot on it with a swift swipe.

Bill Berry let the others provide the thrills while he gave us the groovy beats which drive an R.E.M. show. His attire reflected his workmanlike skills - a simple green t-shirt and jeans. The show would have fallen apart; degenerated into cacophony without his foundation. He was the rampart to watch when you needed a break from all the action up front.

The audience jumped, bounded, danced, pumped, and threatened to tear up the Grand Ole Opry. The band had to request the happy throngs to tone it down. Eventually, the security goons gained a little control and the show continued without any more interruptions, The party atmosphere could not be diminished. This was a church revival with people speaking in tongues in the aisles. R.E.M. delivered twenty-five great songs including some from each LP. They didn't touch Chronic Town and of the albums it was Fables and Lifes represented the most.

Disappointments: No "Radio Free Europe" or "(Don't Go Back To) Rockville"
No cameos from any of the Jason and the Scorchers boys
Highpointments: "Second Guessing", "Sitting Still", "Hyena", "Can't Get There From Here", and "Pretty Persuasion"

They closed the show with "Little America" with Stipe adding the lyrics "Ronald Reagan son of a bitch" and some bomb noises at the end. The Republicans in the audience weren't offended as they chanted for R.E.M. to give us more, more, more. We were treated to two encores with four songs apiece. Sadly, the concert had to eventually end and end it did with a tremendous revered up "Life And How To Live It" and a wonderful evening was had by all. The buzz from my Foster Lager was long gone, but the one from this concert will last forever. Go see R.E.M. if you get the chance. You'll forget about all of your problems and you'll come away from the show liking the band even more than you did before.

What I can remember of the set list:

These Days
Sitting Still
Green Grow The Rushes
West Of The Fields
Driver 8
Fall On Me
Shaking Through
The Flowers Of Guatemala
I Believe
The One I Love
Swan Swan H
Can't Get There From Here
Old Man Kensey
Pretty Persuasion
Little America

Who Made The Bed?
Auctioneer (Another Engine)

Second Guessing
Begin The Begin
Just A Touch
Life And How To Live It

Doggerel written in 1986 by 19 year old Wally

I cringe a little reading it now, but it wasn't too bad. I managed to get an oblique R.E.M. pun into the piece - the "rapidly I moved" line and the part about the old Ryman stage were transcribed well. I just wonder why I couldn't come up with better descriptive phrase. How many times can one use great and good. I wonder why I was so obsessed with what R.E.M. were wearing too. It's not as if they were fashion plates. I guess it was their standard bearer mystique. They were the one band that united the American underground music scene whether people liked their music or not.


Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Blog

Anonymous said...

Finally I have a date for that show! I was there and I remember it, but the date and time has escaped me over the years.

Thanks for the setlist and the memories. I will set up a more modern version on my ipod for kicks.


Lynnster said...

Loved this post. Brought 1986 right back home to me, you captured that time in Nashville very well.

A lot of people would probably discount this, but I have always considered the Life's Rich Pageant album one of the important albums of the '80s - it definitely was one of the most important, I think, for indie/"college rock" music in general for that snippet of time in the mid-'80s.

And I know some people would likely discount this, but I consider that album the band's most important. Reckoning may have lit the fire nationally, and Green may have been the first "big" one, but to me Life's Rich Pageant is the one that really kickstarted them over into what they eventually became. And I think was sort of the album that really pushed indie/"college rock" more into the limelight to stand up next to the mainstream.

I still get chills down my spine whenever I hear the opening of "Begin the Begin". That is just a great freakin' album, not just for R.E.M. but of all time, as far as I'm concerned. I know people love Out of Time and Automatic..., but to me, Life's Rich Pageant is THE one.

Ah, it's a great day to be a music geek. Thanks for sharing this post.

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