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MUSIC REVIEW (Live)
R.E.M.
Air Canada Centre, Toronto Canada

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Photos of the show and set list
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Date: Tuesday September 30, 2003


R.E.M. hit Toronto in support of their latest (upcoming) release, "In Time: The Best of R.E.M., 1988-2003". In keeping with the greatest hits release, R.E.M. made it clear that this tour was for the fans, accepting requests on a show-by-show basis on their web site, tailoring the set to the requests originating from each city, playing songs they haven't played in years and just generally accomodating fan wishes as much as possible.

With a roadside-americana backdrop of freeway scenes, faceless fluorescent gas station and motel signs and large glittery silhouettes of the band's faces and the words "SCENIC OVERVIEW", the band provided a scenic overview of their career spanning back as far as "Maps and Legends" and "Feeling Gravity's Pull" from 1985's "Fables of the Reconstruction" and including 2 new songs from the upcoming compilation album. Some notable omissions include "Orange Crush", "Superman", "Daysleeper", "Lotus", "What's The Frequency Kenneth", and anything off their first three releases, but obviously they can only fit so many songs into an evening and they did include the two previously unreleased songs which will appear on the new compilation: "Animal", a combination of Beatles-esque verses, and frantic choruses punctuated by the catch-phrase "I am vibrating at the speed of light" and "Bad Day", an uptempo number with their trademark layered vocals which sounds a little too much like "It's The End of the World..." but is just different enough to sound fresh.

The band wasted no time or words once they took the stage, bursting into a solid version of Begin the Begin to start off what was mostly a straight-ahead rock affair. The three remaining members of R.E.M. (Mike Mills, Michael Stipe and Peter Buck) were supplemented by Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5 on guitar and bass, drummer Bill Rieflin and guitarist and keyboardist Ken Stringfellow (formerly of the Posies). Occasional delays as people switched instruments between songs were mostly filled with Stipe's amusing but concise banter about shopping in Los Angeles, living in Vancouver during the recording of their last album, saying hi to his sister and other fairly apolitical topics.

While Mills remained mostly stoic on his side of the stage, Stipe utilized the full width of the stage, flailing around like a rubber toy, strutting and posing, gradually stripping off shirt after to shirt to end the evening naked from the waist up, all the while coaxing various verbal and physical responses from the crowd including the usual sing-alongs, cheers and even a valiant attempt at getting the crowd to do "the wave" or something vaguely similar. Stipe even took the time to threaten that he would personally kill a fan near the front who kept holding up a sign requesting "Country Feedback", if the sign wasn't put away. For a show which is supposedly for the fans this response seemed a little odd but perhaps there was something else going on that wasn't apparent.

The 18 song set ended with a jubilant rendition of Man On The Moon as Stipe hopped around on stage shirtless in spasmic enthusiasm typical of the evening. After a brief break they returned for the encore, Stipe joining Mills who sat at a piano. The quiet rendition of Nightswimming and dim lighting transported the crowd to an intimate piano bar for the one song, only to be jolted back to stadium-rock reality by the full-on assault of Get Up, the music-box break replaced by an unrepentant 70's rock drum solo from Rieflin.

Before the night was through "It's the End of the World As We Know It" was of course revived one more time, the band eschewing the opportunity for a crowd-participation chorus at the end and instead plowing through the song without a breather.

Although Stipe's voice sounded a little worse-for-wear when he spoke between songs, it didn't appear to affect his singing and the sound overall was good for a hockey-rink setting. Stipe did have his now-trademark music stand and lyrics at his side but hardly seemed to need them, if he referred to them at all. Although the venue was far from full, the crowd was treated to what was definitely a strong and varied performance proving R.E.M.'s longevity is not without reason.

Set list with source album of each song:

Begin the Begin (Lifes Rich Pageant)
These Days (Lifes Rich Pageant)
Maps and Legends (Fables of the Reconstruction)
Drive (Automatic for the People)
Animal (In Time: The Best of R.E.M.)
Fall On Me (Lifes Rich Pageant)
Feeling Gravity's Pull (Fables of the Reconstruction)
Bad Day (In Time: The Best of R.E.M.)
The One I Love (Document)
Beat a Drum (Reveal)
Everybody Hurts (Automatic for the People)
I Believe (Lifes Rich Pageant)
Electrolite (New Adventures in Hi-Fi)
Losing My Religion (Out of Time)
Find The River (Automatic for the People)
She Just Wants To Be (Reveal)
Walk Unafraid (Up)
Man on the Moon (Automatic for the People)


Encore:

Nightswimming (Automatic for the People)
Get Up (Green)
Sweetness Follows (Automatic for the People)
Imitation of Life (Reveal)
End of the World (Document)

Steve Donnelly Email WWW

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