Sunday, May 25, 2008

THE STAGE HECKLER: R.E.M. & Friends at the 2008 Sasquatch Festival

I didn't get to bed after the show until 3AM, but I didn't care...the experience was well worth it.

When we arrived in the afternoon at the Sasquatch Music Festival at the Columbia Gorge in the middle of Washington state, a band called The New Pornographers were onstage (despite the imagery of the name, no such activities were taking place). They were followed by M.I.A., and Mighty Mouse... sorry, I think I meant to say Modest Mouse...whose singer sounded like a shouting middle-schooler having a temper tantrum. Yikes!

Let's just say that R.E.M.'s attendance at this musical event was a good thing and upped the notch in quality a bit, to put it politely...but of course not until the weather decided that it wanted to monsoon on everyone and challenge the band for the night.

...but these guys are veterans and have played through it all! What's a little rain?

Scheduled for 10PM, at one point it was questionable on whether or not R.E.M. could even go onstage, as the lights were swaying in the wind and all the equipment was getting completely soaked. There's very little in the way of protection from the elements onstage at the Gorge Amphitheatre. Staff were out there until showtime wiping off the performer's areas.

The band came onstage at about 10:05 --- not very late when you consider what the elements were doing.

It was obvious that safety was on the minds of the performers. On several occasions lead singer Michael Stipe checked in with his bandmates, and mused with the audience about the possibility of slipping and falling onstage --- he directed the audience to heckle him if he slipped.

"If I slip and fall," said Stipe, "You have to yell to me 'I told you so!'" were his instructions. As the night went on he took off his shoes and sang onstage in his socks.

"If I go barefoot, does that make me a hippie?" asked Stipe later on in the set. In which I responded with a yell from the uphill peanut gallery: "But you're already a hippie!"

To my surprise and satisfaction, the choice of tunes was about 75% different from the set list the night before in Vancouver. Very nice.

Here's the R.E.M. set list for May 24 performance at the Sasquatch Festival
  1. Living Well is the Best Revenge
  2. What's the Frequency, Kenneth?
  3. These Days
  4. Drive
  5. Accelerate
  6. Auctioneer (Another Engine)
  7. Man-sized Wreath
  8. Ignoreland
  9. Hollow Man
  10. Life and How to Live It
  11. Houston
  12. Losing My Religion
  13. Harborcoat
  14. The One I Love
  15. The Final Straw
  16. Let Me In
  17. Horse to Water
  18. Bad Day
  19. Walk Unafraid
  20. I'm Gonna DJ
  21. Supernatural Superserious
  22. Orange Crush
  23. Man on the Moon
When compared to the set list from the night before in Vancouver, BC, it's clear that the band is going for a little variety on the tour.

So this was the third R.E.M. concert for myself. I caught them at the ASU Activity Center in Tempe, Arizona touring off the Green album in 1989, then again 10 years later off the Up tour at Bumpershoot in Seattle.

They're now touring off the newly released Accelerate, which has an edgier sound and an attitude akin to punk, like much of their material from the 1980s.

As a live act R.E.M. is a well-oiled machine, seasoned and polished. Unlike many bands out there who deteriorate with age and find themselves turning into novelty acts, this band ages like a fine wine.

For those of you who made it and braved the rain and wind, kudos to ya! S

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