Tag Archives: Michael Stipe

Pogues Show Tonight & New REM Album

 

The Pogues – Fiesta

Tonight, I’m going to see the Pogues in DC, for what I believe is the 6th or 7th I’ve seen them.  It will definitely be an awesome time, as I ranked them #5 on my Top 20 Concerts of All time. I may try and update before the show, as I downloaded a WordPress App for my phone the other day.  I haven’t used it yet, so we’ll see how it goes.

Also of interest, REM’s latest album Collapse Into Now comes out today.  I’ll probably write it about later on during the week.

R.E.M. – Uberlin

 

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Top 20 Concerts (Part 3)

The countdown continues!

10. R.E.M. (June 2008, Merriweather Post Pavilion – Columbia MD)

R.E.M. probably should be higher on this list, since I absolutely adore them.  The first time I saw them in 1995, I was 13 and it was one of the highlights of my youth.  While they’ve played regularly around the DC/Baltimore area, it took me 13 years to see them again because I had very little interest in seeing songs from Up, Reveal and Around the Sun played live.  With Accelerate and with the band digging through the vaults it was time to go see R.E.M. again.

I saw this show with the largest group of people I’ve gone to a concert with – a total of 8 people.  Almost everybody in my group with the exception of my girlfriend who thought that it was funny that a music snob would like R.E.M. – though she changed her mind after the show) was a die-hard old fan.  For about half of the show, my brother  and I traded gasps and triumphant shouts with each old song that was played.  We also frantically sent texts to my other older brother who lives in Boston, and probably would have loved the show.

As for the music, Michael Stipe still remains one of rock’s best vocalists.  R.E.M.’s current drummer, while not quite as vital to the group as Bill Berry added an extra punch to the older songs that wasn’t there previously.  And as for Peter Buck, he may not be a flashy guitarist but there’s nothing like those jangling riffs he lays down.

9. Bob Dylan/Willie Nelson (August 2009, Aberdeen Stadium – Aberdeen, MD)

Bob Dylan

Willie Nelson

Bob Dylan should probably be higher on this list as well, as any reader of this blog knows, Dylan is my favorite musical artist.  Your view of seeing Dylan live really depends on how you view should play their songs.  Should they play the hits?  Should the songs be recognizable?  If the answer to this question is yes, then seeing Bob Dylan live might not be for you.  Dylan is always searching, always one step ahead – and his concerts reflect that.  No one Dylan show is the same.

Willie Nelson on the other hand, plays everything you would want to hear plus more including some choice Hank Williams cover.  It might be the dope, but Nelson clearly enjoys his job, and that love rubs off on the audience.

8. Little Richard/Al Green/BB King (August 2007, Pier 6 Pavilion – Baltimore MD)

Little Richard

Al Green

BB King

Is there a better collection of artists for a show on a late summer night?  I think not.  Each of these legends provide the perfect soundtrack for a warm night.  Al Green can still make the women over 50 swoon, Little Richard (with the exception of Jerry Lee Lewis) practically invented rock theatrics, and is every bit as cooky as he was in the 1950s.  And no living person can conjure old the ghost of the Delta blues like BB King.  What really impressed me about this show, was how tight and professional these musicians and their bands were.  There was very little room for improvisation – every note was calculated and perfected.  Yet, it still had a certain magic.  Even though you knew that each one of them played pretty much the exact same show the show before, you got the sense that they were playing it specifically for you.

7. Bruce Springsteen – (August 2008 Hershey Stadium – Hershey PA)

Jimmy Fallon recently said that Bruce Springsteen invented the rock concert.  While that may not be entirely accurate, Springsteen has continued to revolutionize what a stadium concert can be.  The only rule that Springsteen seems to adhere to is that the show must be an epic event.  Springsteen has also described the E-Street Band as the “world’s best bar band”.  Perhaps a bit of hyperbole, but is there any major band out there that can play “Summertime Blues”, John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”, Them’s “Gloria” and their own original songs in the same show?  There were several times I thought the show was going to end, but Springsteen kept pointing to signs in the audience and nodding to the band to give it a try.  After 3 plus hours, he kept going and even the band was hoping he didn’t notice another request.

This show gets the nomination for the strangest crowd I’ve ever been a part of. The outdoor stadium made it look like a carnival came to town complete with funnel cake stands and jousting (ok maybe I’m making the last part up.)  I also got into an argument with some dude in the bathroom during the main-set who was extremely pissed because Springsteen wasn’t playing the hits in favor of tracks “no one gives a shit about”.  The guy was wrong on both accounts – “The Promised Land”, “Badlands”, and “Prove it All Night” were all played in the main-set.  Second, I think there are many Springsteen fans who would be excited to hear “Reason to Believe”, “Part Man, Part Monkey” and “Because the Night”.

6. Tom Waits (June 2008 – Knoxville Tennessee)

Living in the Baltimore/DC area makes it easy to see many good shows.  When Tom Waits toured in 2008 for the first time in years, he decided to ignore the major markets and place in more obscure areas like the show I attended, which was in Knoxville, Tennessee.  It’s by far the farthest I have ever traveled for a show.

As for the show itself, it was part a Vaudeville show, and part story-time with Tom Waits.  Waits is famous for his onstage banter, and he failed to disappoint in this regard telling tales – which may or may not have been true.  Musically, most of the show relied on a slow pre-rock jazzy crawl especially on such songs as “Way Down in the Hole”.  “Innocent When You Dream” became a lullaby with audience participation, and “Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis” received a strong ovation.

I probably would rank this show a lot higher if I knew as much of Tom Waits catalogue then as I do now.

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Nostalgic 1994 Songs: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

In 1994, I may have been branching out my musical tastes, but R.E.M. was still my favorite band. During the summer, radio stations claimed that the band would release a “rock album”, after two acoustic-based albums (Out of Time, and Automatic For the People).  Naturally, this excited me as I was a big fan of Document.

In the fall, the stations announced that the lead single of Monster, “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” would soon be played.  I had to hear this song before the album came out.  This would be the song, that would make the kids in my class understand why R.E.M. was so important, so good.  It had to.  By the DJ’s descriptions of it being a big loud rock song, everybody would listening to it.  R.E.M. would be cool to 7th graders.  I wanted to be the kid that told everybody that I had been listening to them for years.  I was already talking about how great the song was before I even heard it.

As fate would have it, it seemed everybody else had heard “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” before me.  Listening to the radio in the car while my mother drove me home from school was the only way I could tune in, waiting excitedly for the song to be played.  Time, unfortunately was not on my side.  Just as we were about to ride home, DJs announced that the song would be played after the commercial break. In the morning, as we drove to school, they announced that it had just been played.

On a trip with my parents one Saturday afternoon, I listened intently in the back seat of my dad’s truck waiting for the moment when I could finally hear the song.  This would be it.  But as we drove further up into the mountains, the radio station began to fade.  Luckily, I could still hear some music through the static.  It wasn’t ideal, but I could deal with a radio cutting in and out.  Further we drove, and the DJ proclaimed that “the new R.E.M. single would be played in the next 15 minutes”.  My eyes widened, and I prepared my ears for rock heaven.

I forced myself to listen through songs I actually liked.  None of it mattered.  And we kept on driving through the mountains, and then the radio completely cut out.  This couldn’t be happening. Not to me. I could have cried.  Why did this have to happen to me?  For about 10 minutes or so, there was silence from the radio.  My mom who knew I had desperately wanted to hear the song, told me it would come back on in a minute.  A few minutes later, the radio finally did come back in.  The DJ declared that they had just played “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”.  I had missed it.  Again.  Would I ever hear the song?

I never did hear “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” before Monster came out.  The first time I heard it was when my older brother, home for the night, brought over his copy.  I closely stared at orange cover with the image of the black bear for several minutes before finally popping it in the CD player in my parents’ living room.  It was late, but my mom let me stay up late to listen to the album.  I couldn’t play it too loud so I put my ears to the speakers and closed my eyes.

In a second, Peter’s Buck distorted guitar-riff came through the speakers.  It was glorious. It was loud and thick.  Even the rock of Document hadn’t prepared for me for this.  Michael Stipe‘s vocals were pushed to the background.  I could barely understand a thing he sang, but it didn’t matter.  By the time, it slowed down for a second, I finally caught my breath.  And then came the solo – a backwards wah-wah break in the middle of the song. I didn’t know that Peter Buck could play like that, and at the time it seemed like the ultimate guitar-solo.  After the song finally ended, I replayed it twice before playing the rest of the album.

R.E.M. had done it. They had returned to rock after years of dabbling in a softer-style. For years, Monster was my favorite album of all time.  It’s probably one of the few albums that I know every single note by heart.  As the years went on, I stopped listening to it obsessively.  Now I don’t even count it among my favorite R.E.M. albums.  I think I wore it out too much, eventually becoming bored with it.  It’s still a pretty good album, but I’ll still list “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” as one of their best.

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

 

 

 

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Song of the Day – “Stumble” – R.E.M.

If you listen closely with your headphones at the very beginning of R.E.M.’s “Stumble” (off their debut EP Chronic Town) you can hear Michael Stipe laughing into the microphone.  He then mumbles the word “teeth” and begins clicking his mouth together several times as Peter Buck begins the jangled arpeggio guitar line that begins the song.  Bill Berry bangs his drums a few times in reply, and the song officially begins with a quick bass slap by Mike Mills.

Up until “Leave” off of New Adventures in Hi Fi in 1996, “Stumble” was R.E.M.’s longest song at just 6 minutes.   Like most of the songs of Chronic Town, “Stumble” is a mixture between R.E.M.’s love of post-punk, chiming guitars, and art-rock. Buck’s guitar line is hypnotic but it’s really the rhythm section of Mike Mills and Bill Berry that drives the song, like much of R.E.M.’s early work.  Berry holds the beat tightly as Stipe repeats the lines “we’ll stumble through the yard, we’ll stumble through the a-p-t” but explodes during the pre-chorus and chorus, which is a rarity for R.E.M.’s usually constrained songwriting.  Even as Stipe loudly wails “ball and chain” on the chorus, it’s still indecipherable.  For a long time, I was convinced he was singing “by chance”.

There’s a small fast-break down between the second and third verse, but it’s after the 3 chorus that things really weird.  “Stumble”  lo-fi production is broken by a bunch of tape loops sounding like wind and Berry’s wild drumming.  Over this wall of sound, Stipe recites a barely audible poem where the only phrase to be heard is “it’s round about midnight”.  Buck repeats the guitar line heard at the beginning of the beginning of the song, and it’s one more run through of the verse.

“Stumble” isn’t usually mentioned in the list of great R.E.M. songs from the beginning of their career.  It’s too weird to have made an impact like other songs of the period such as “Radio Free Europe”, “Gardening at Night” or “So. Central Rain”.   But it’s has a distinct sound containing many of R.E.M.’s early trademarks.

“Stumble” is one of the first songs I listened to over and over as a teenager with my headphones on.  At a family trip to the beach one year,  I borrowed my older brother’s walkman and copy of Chronic Town and listened to the tape constantly.  “Stumble” might have been long and repetitive, but it pulls you along and Berry’s drumming creates just enough tension to keep things interesting.  It became an obsession to kept to figure out what the hell Michael Stipe was saying as he recited the poem.  I never did figure it out, and at this point the fact that I can’t understand it only adds to the beauty of the song.

Check out “Stumble” from Chronic Town:

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Earth Day & “Cuyahoga”

After watching a video on Earth Day today I had no idea that the event was sparked by the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River.  While almost every knows of Earth Day, no as many people know about the burning of the Cuyahoga River.  I only know about it because of R.E.M.

R.E.M. chronicled the disaster in their 1986 song, “Cuyahoga”.  When I first heard the song when I was about 5 (I was a huge R.E.M. fan as a kid believe it or not)I had no idea about the Cuyahoga, or any idea of what the song meant.  I also thought  the chorus was “Puyahoga” instead of “Cuyahoga”  I asked one of my older brothers what the song was about.  When he told me, the idea that a river could actually burn stuck with me.  Even now, I’m slightly afraid if someone flicks their cigarette butt into the Chesapeke Bay it could end up like the Cuyahoga.  Hyperbole, I know.

The song begins with a memorable bass riff played by Mike Mills before the rest of the band kicks in.  “Let’s put our heads together start a new country up,” Michael Stipe announces.  Peter Buck sticks to his trademark chimes during the verses, but alternates between those and power-chords during the pre-chorus.  The song sounds like it starts out as a normal R.E.M. circa 1986, but the chorus turns into one arena friendly rock with its plaintive shouts of “Cuyahoga!” during the chorus.  Like a lot of R.E.M. songs, Michael Stipe alternates between glimpses of old memories (“We knee skinned that river you and me, We knee-skinned that river red”) and harsh reality (“Rewrite the book, and rule the pages, secured in faith.  Bury, burn the waste.”)  “Cuyahoga” is one of R.E.M.’s forgotten gems, but more than that, it’s also an important reminder of a piece of history.

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R.E.M. at 30

April 5 marks the 30th anniversary of R.E.M.’s first show in Athens, Georgia.   R.E.M. is a band whose importance on my life cannot be measured.  Although I don’t listen to them now as much as I used to, for a good portion of my childhood and teenage years they were the soundtrack of my life.   R.E.M.’s albums were the first tapes and CDs I had. 

Unlike a lot of other artists I listen to now, I cannot remember when I first heard R.E.M.  They were always there.  As the youngest of five, my older siblings were always playing whatever music that peaked their interest at the time.  Since my older sister and one of my brothers were in college during the mid 80’s, naturally they listened to R.E.M.  It didn’t matter if I couldn’t understand what Michael Stipe was singing about  (in fact on a good portion of the songs, I still can’t).  At this young age of of about 5 or 6 I wanted to be like my older siblings, and that meant if they liked R.E.M., I would too.  

In grade school and middle school, I used to scribble the names of R.E.M. songs and what I thought were lyrics on my binder, much to the chagrin of my classmates.  Looking back, it’s no wonder they thought I was weird.  One year, on the last day of school we were allowed to bring a tape of our favorite musical artists. I was so proud to bring my copy of Green to class, eager to show my classmates my obsession. For the life of me, I can’t remember what everyone else had (but it was mostly likely whatever was on the radio.)  When we finally got around to putting on Green, my classmates liked the first two songs (the bouncy pop of Pop Song 89 and singalong of Get Up) but the beauty of the mandolin-driven You Are The Everything was lost on them, and I had to turn it off.  

Every kid has their favorite movie growing up and one of mine happened to be R.E.M.’s concert film of their 1989 tour, aptly titled Tourfilm.  I used to beg my mom to let me watch it on Friday nights.  I had yet to attend an actual concert, so this was as close as I could come.  The live versions of the songs I had known since I was practically an infant were not drastically different from their album counterparts, but they were thrilling in their execution.  And even at the age of 10, I found Michael Stipe to be a charismatic performer.  One scene had him calling out a fan for littering on stage -“That better not be styrofoam, pal!”  I haven’t watched it in years, and I’m not sure I want to – I have such fond memories of it.  

When I was 13 I began to branch out and actually listen to the radio and listen to other musical artists.  I really liked Green Day because they sang about masturbation and being lazy, something every 13 year boy  can relate to.  But R.E.M. was still my first love.  I became obsessed with trying to listen into when WHFS would play the latest single What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?  Due to lots of static and various other factors, I always seemed to miss it.  I finally heard the song it when my brother Paul bought Monster. I listened to it non-stop.  To me, it might as well have been a gift from Heaven.  It was filled with loud guitars, distortion and sexual references I finally understood. I had never listened to guitarists like Clapton or Hendrix, so I thought the backwards solo on Kenneth was the most intricate piece of guitar work ever put on an album.  Circus Envy was the heaviest song I had ever heard with its crackling and fuzz sound effects layered throughout the entire song.  

October 31st 1997 was a day that is ingrained in my memory forever.  R.E.M.’s drummer Bill Berry left the band, due to a brain aneurism he  had two years previously while on tour.  To me this was like the Paul McCartney announcing that he had left the Beatles – I was devastated.  How could he do this to me?  I remember telling a friend of mine that “today was a shitty day” and I was quickly put in my place.  After Berry’s departure, I tried (like a lot of fans) to really accept the “new” R.E.M., but Up, Reveal, and the god-awful Around the Sun never struck a chord with me.  I bought them all because of a feeling of solidarity but it was never the same.   I moved on and discovered lots of artists to obsesses over.  Some of them eclipsed my love of R.E.M. (Bob Dylan, The Clash and Van Morrison among them).  

It wasn’t until 2008 that R.E.M. finally remembered that they were R.E.M. again with Accelerate.   It was short, tight and well constructed songs of vintage R.E.M. but played with experience of men in their late 40s.  When I saw them that summer, it was one of the greatest songs I’ve ever seen.  It wasn’t so much because it was a mind-blowing performance, but they pulled songs from their entire catalogue that had never been performed live, or very rarely.  If you had told me years earlier that I would see R.E.M. perform Driver 8, Little America, or These Days I would have  never believed you.   And the fact that I saw it with my older brother who had passed his love of R.E.M. onto me, it made that much sweeter.  

Driver 8 from 2008:

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Because The Night

Sorry no major updates today.  But until tomorrow enjoy this video of Michael Stipe singing “Because the Night” with Bruce and the E-Street band:

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