Evan Kessler Dot Com

The Home of the Brave

Rocking Out Is The Best Revenge

Posted by evankessler on June 20, 2008

If laughter is the best medicine then rocking out has to be a close second, because the four plus hours spent in the acoustically friendly confines of Madison Square Garden this evening certainly did the trick in terms of lifting me out of any recent doldrums. Several months ago Andrew Morton had done an excellent job in staying abreast of the summer concert happenings and inquired as to whether or not I would want to go with him to see R.E.M. take to the world’s most famous arena to turn it into the world’s most presently rocking one. Without hesitation I accepted his invitation and before I knew it we had arrived at the date of the event in question, June 19, 2008.

I spent most of the day somewhat ignorant to the fact that I was going to a concert in the evening. I was excited about the show but for some reason not filled with the usual anticipation for a show that I’m terribly excited about. Maybe it’s that I’d seen R.E.M. perform somewhere in the neighborhood of seven times before and I pretty much knew what to expect or maybe it’s just because I haven’t felt terribly excited about anything lately. When the clock struck 6pm I made way towards midtown with a ho-hum, I’ll get there when I get there demeanor.

I made better time than I thought I would as I exited the 34th Street BQ station at around 6:45. I was supposed to me Andrew and Renga at 7pm in front of the arena, so I had some time to kill. Rather then shuffle in and out of stores or restaurants, I decided to park myself in front of the Fuse building, but as I crossed the street to make my way to the video screen monstrosity that is housed at the front of that building my phone rang. The voice on the other end was Goody, who was on the side of the street from whence I came. He was waving at me along with our old high school buddy JK and his girlfriend Stephanie. Rather than stand by my lonesome waiting for Andrew and Renga I turned right back around and crossed the street to hang out with Goody and JK for a few minutes and make some small talk before they decided to make for their seats on account of wanting to catch the openers.

It was only a few minutes later that my two fellow concert going pals happened upon me as I stood in front of the Chase Kiosk outside of Madison Square Garden and we happily made for the insides of the arena as I joked about being excited to finally get the opportunity to catch a New York Liberty game. Ah, the WNBA it’s faaaaantastic…on opposite day. Upon entry and finding our way through Tower A towards gate 79 we stopped at the beer stand featuring the imported versions of our favorite frothy beverage from lands as distant as Canada (Labatt’s Blue) and the Czech Republic (Pilsner Urquell). Andrew and I settled on Labatt’s citing that it was a full 50 cents cheaper at $7.75 than Laura’s eurotrash Bass Ale and it still came with a pretzel rod firmly entrenched in the handle. Ah, the pretzel rod, one of life’s simple pleasures.

Andrew and Renga enjoy their brew and pretzel rods

We soon took our seats in section 232 just as opening act, The National was starting into their set, which lasted roughly forty-five minutes to an hour. That’s one of the better things about seeing an established act like R.E.M., they’re big enough to choose any opener they like and don’t have to give into record label pressures to put some crappy band on their bill. This evening certainly boasted a sterling lineup. In addition to Brooklyn Indie-Rock upstarts, The National, the bill also included indie-alternative rock darlings Modest Mouse to complete a more than formidable lineup, as they boasted the presence of the legendary Johnny Marr of Smiths fame on guitar.

After the National’s set ended Andrew and I went up to get hot dogs and were met with the two options of either a “Jumbo Dog” or “Foot long”. The Jumbo was a longer than a normal hot dog and the foot long, well, it was a foot long, but only cost 50 cents more. Despite getting more bang for the buck, I didn’t fall into the trap of the foot long, because frankly, there’s only so much hot dog taste I wanted in my mouth for the next three days.

Jumbo vs. Foot long Hot Dog

We returned to our seats promptly after our purchase and heartily enjoyed Modest Mouse’s set which featured songs like “Satin In A Coffin” , “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and “Florida”. They kept the banter to a minimum but managed to rock properly, though I have to say, while I enjoyed their set, something about their sound or their song selection didn’t seem properly suited to the arena. Their arrangements are more sparse than bombastic, so it didn’t translate into a proper arena rock atmosphere. I wasn’t that disappointed though, I had seen them in a smaller, more proper venue for their sound and knew what it was supposed to sound like. Not a lot of bands can pull off the fanfare necessary for a venue such as MSG.

It was around 9pm when Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck, sideman Scott McCaughey, and tour drummer Bill Rieflin took to the Madison Square Garden stage. In a span of several seconds it became apparent that they were there to rock the hell out of the place. Opening with one of Accelerate’s more upbeat numbers, Living Well Is The Best Revenge, the band launched the crowd into a rock ‘n’ roll frenzy and that freight train kept ‘a rolling for what more or less accounted for the entirety of the two plus hour show. The last time I encountered R.E.M. in an arena setting was on my birthday in 2004, two days after the re-election of George W. Bush at MSG. The city of New York, the crowd, and especially the band was in a dour mood following that travesty. Tonight, Michael Stipe took a few opportunities to acknowledge that show, but he and the band seemed full of optimism about the impending election and it reflected in their mood and performance.

This was a show that was not built for fairweather fans who liked “Man on The Moon” and “Losing My Religion”. The band vigorously delved into past gems such as “Disturbance at The Heron House”, “Harborcoat”, “Ignoreland”, “These Days”, and (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” amongst a host of other favorites while mercilessly leaving out slower hits like “Everybody Hurts”. I think the only albums ignored in the setlist were 1983’s Murmur and 2001’s Reveal.
They also dusted off “Leaving New York” which they had not rehearsed all tour and which I think had not been played since the post-election New York show. The new songs captivated just as effectively as the old ones. “Man-Sized Wreath” and “Horse to Water” seemed to be sonic proof that despite their advancing years R.E.M. is not ready to fade away anytime soon.


R.E.M. performing “Pretty Persuasion”

One thing I really enjoyed was that of the Mills-Stipe dynamic. Mike Mills has always been one of the most arresting background vocal talents and his abilities shined through the song selection. Hearing him sing live is always an aural delight when balanced with Stipe’s or even in the lead as was the case with the performance of Rockville.

The only negative part of the show had absolutely nothing to do with R.E.M., rather it was a product of a girl sitting directly one row in front of Laura, Andrew and I who talked straight through the last half hour of the show before the encore. Normally you wouldn’t expect one person’s voice to be so distracting during a loud, bombastic rock show, but when that person is trying her best to talk louder than the music being blared at brain blasting volume…for that long, you’re going to notice it. I don’t think I’ll ever stand people who see fit to pay a large sum of money to go to a show and then persist to ignore the goings on as if they were at a dinner party. Anyway, Andrew gave her the ol’ shush sign entering the encore and she mostly shut up…or she spent time whispering into her friends’ ears how appalled she was that someone signaled her to shut up.

The encore itself was pretty much the only “Greatest Hits” portion, though it led off with eardrum cracking “Supernatural Superserious” which led into radio favorite “Losing My Religion” and three songs later into “Man On The Moon”. When the show came to a close around 11:20pm the feeling was one of exhilaration. We had just witnessed two hours of high spirited arena rock for the ages, affirming the greatness of a band that will stand the test of time.

(currently working on uploading some video…be patient…I may need to edit a clip)

R.E.M. @ Madison Square Garden June 19, 2008
Living Well Is The Best Revenge
These Days
What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Bad Day
Hollow Man
Man-Sized Wreath
Leaving New York
Disturbance At TheHeron House
(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville
Driver 8
The One I Love
Until The Day Is Done
Let Me In
Horse To Water
Pretty Persuasion
Orange Crush
I’m Gonna DJ
Supernatural Superserious
Losing My Religion
Begin The Begin
Fall On Me
Man on the Moon


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