Flanking Berry and Stipe as ever are their mismatched cohorts. Mousy. mild-mannered Mike Mills has become a man of ill-considered jackets of late — tonight he’s sporting a white number emblazoned with spaneg crotchets and quavers. It would suit Sidney Devine a treat. With almost equal sartorial ineptitude. Peter Buck wears a loose white shirt with blue-and- white-striped trousers. You‘d think he was about to serve you a slice of prime sirloin if it wasn't for that Rickenbacker slung over his shoulder. But we’re ready to forgive these men their dress- sense. They are. after all The Greatest Rock ‘n‘ Roll Band In The World (It‘s Official). Aren‘t they?
The past six years have created a huge burden of expectation for R.l_i.M. livery accolade known to MTV has been heaped upon them; record sales -— especially for Uni o/"li’me t thit and Automatic For The People (1992) — have been massive; their worldwide popularity has swelled exponentially since Green. yet they‘ve chosen to lie low. exposing themselves only fleetineg to the world‘s hungry gaze. So when the First Family of rock do finally bestow a visit on the starving masses. it‘d better be good.
So . . . do they falter‘.’ ls there any truth in the rumours of disappointment that surrounded the aborted spring leg of this year-long tour‘.’
When REM. released their latest album Monster. ‘loud and sexy' were the promised keynotes. There were those who found fault with its growling. dirty slabs of noise. but no one could disagree it was a departure from the largely acoustic. melancholic (an o/ Time and Automatic. But when you hear the songs from Monster played live. you recognise they were made that way for a purpose. The set’s opening spin through ‘What's the Frequency. Kenneth‘.". F . . -
14 The List l-1-27 Jul NOS
‘('rush with liyclincr" and ‘(’it'cus linvy' is a
truly magniﬁcent sound. hard btit melodic. quirky but accessible. rich and dark as Death by ('ltocolate.
’l’his trilogy is followed. like a statement of
intent. with beefy. rockin’ versions of ‘Drive‘ and "fry Not to Breathc‘ - two of :lntomatic‘s more laidback moments rendered pumpineg in— your-face. Next up is the first of three new
Billiard-ball barnet; runty-assed frame; knowing, flirtatious smirk; questionable taste in shirts.
Yep, that’s Michael Stipe all right.
songs. ‘l'ndcrtonc’. a bass-led. dubbish affair
with tortured harmonics and feedback from
Buck's guitar. and a lyric barking back to the death thetnc that dominated Automatic: ‘I can‘t say I'm frightened/l can‘t say I‘m not afraid.‘
Returning to Monster-land. ‘Bang and Blame’ sustains the bottom-heavy groove. and a slow, melodic ‘Strange Currencies’ — bathed in green light. perhaps to suggest jealous love — brings out the first rash of upheld Zippos in the crowd.
This is a pared-down. post-workout take on the R.E.M. live show. Gone are the self- conscious trimmings of the Green tour with its warm-up captions. its snippets of cover versions. its extensive use of acoustic instruments and film projections. Yes. the backdrops are illuminated from time to time with Stipe‘s avant-garde moving images. yes. the stage is littered with plastic dinosaurs. but the band’s focus is on hitting us between the eyes with some hardcore rock ‘n‘ roll action.
The thing with seeing R.E.M. live is that - despite the band‘s all-for-one-and-one-for-all credo — Feeling the Noise can seem secondary to the serious business of Loving the Alien. It actually matters little what Berry. Buck. Mills — and gttest musicians Scott McCaughey and Nathan December — are wearing. They might just as well be hidden behind screens for all the focus they draw from His Royal Weirdness Prince Michael. Wiggling that skinny butt of his. lurching around the stage like a rabid ferret. posturing and preening like a warped Mick Jagger imitator. pausing occasionally for a tongue-in-cheek inter-song announcement . . . even when singing with his back to the audience (he frequently does) he holds the attention of a stadium crowd in a way that the frontpersons of the support bands (Belly‘s Tanya Donelly and The Cranberries‘ Dolores O’Riordan) could only dream about.
llamburg's youth is a well mannered assemblage. and responds warmly — whether to singer or songs is anybody’s guess. Meanwhile.
o'.,.~ ’ -