Once upon a time REM were one of the best bands in the world. They produced great records and brilliant live shows. I saw them a few times including when their international star was shining very brightly indeed.
I was in Northern Ireland on a six month working holiday. More correctly I worked for about 5 months and holidayed for a month. This was the late 80’s and I was based in Portadown the news that REM were to play in Dublin coincided very nicely with the holiday part and so I booked a ticket. This was when concert tickets looked cool too. The gig was someting to look forward to as I spent my days working in a creamery pouring sour buttermilk into a vat for re-pastuerising or stacking milk cartons from a production line.
A mate and I headed down and sorted a BnB across the road from the Royal Dublin Showgrounds in Ballsbridge in leafy South Dublin. This didn’t look to me like a major concert venue, I’d only ever seen The Sydney Entertainment Centre and it was nothing like that. It really felt like stepping back in time a little with the architecture and gardens (…and still does) . This was also when the train over the border was often two trains and a shuttle bus between Newry in the North and Dundalk in the South because of “security alerts”.
I’d come across REM and their music when I had taped a music show that was on late on SBS TV in Australia. The Clash and U2 were to be the featured artists which meant that half a dozen of their videos would be played. REM’s So Central Rain and Radio Free Europe were played. I bought their albums Reckoning and Murmur as soon as I found a music shop that stocked them.
This was their first major world tour and the once darlings of the Indie scene had since taken the corporate route and signed to Warner Bros. Some old fans were calling them sell outs. Green was their first album with the new label and I loved it.
Support on the night was The Go Betweens who I had seen a while before in the Paddington RSL in Sydney. The sound that night was ordinary and I was under impressed with the band but thought I’d check them out again anyway. I’m really glad I did because they were on form and played a great set with lots of material from their album 16 Lovers Lane. I still love that album.
REM came on stage to an RDS crowd that wasn’t huge but pretty vocal. Michael Stipe wore his David Byrne influence on his white suit sleeve and off they went. The gig was brilliant and the band in great form. They played a great and diverse set of well known and obscure songs, covers and originals. Few shows for me have ever come close.
I think that they would have played for longer than their 12 song encore but Michael announced they didn’t know any more songs (not sure how true this was). I remember than U2 and The Waterboys were in the audience too that night, maybe even Hothouse Flowers.
Some time later I was back packing around Europe and in Milan I paid well over the odds for an American magazine so I could read something and there was an interview with Peter Buck. He talked about their world tour and said how the band felt that that show in Dublin had been their best.
Next time I saw REM was in the Sydney Entertainment Centre in 1995 as part of their Monster tour. This was a bit of a let down after their previous gig. I’d bought the album and tried to like it but I was falling out of love with the band. I bought a few more of their albums but made a decision to stop after a while. Their music no longer spoke to me or maybe I just wasn’t listening. I did see them live one more time though. This time is was in Lansdowne Road in Dublin. I had actually moved to Dublin from Sydney and was living in a small flat less than a mile from the ground. My job in HMV music shop on Grafton Street in Dublin ensured access to concert tickets.
The gig was good, they played a mixture of old and new and they were experienced at playing arenas at this stage but for me the edge was gone.
Later on again they played in Ardgillan Castle near where I ended up moving to in North County Dublin. I was offered free tickets but didn’t go.
Apparently the sun set was beautiful as the band played. I could hear them play “The One I Love” from the house as I opened my back door and looked up for the brightest star
Turn You Inside-Out
Pop Song 89
Disturbance at the Heron House
Auctioneer (Another Engine)
Feeling Gravitys Pull
King of Birds
We Live as We Dream, Alone
(Gang of Four cover) (Snippet)
World Leader Pretend
Begin the Begin
Underneath the Bunker
It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Swan Swan H
You Are the Everything
(Hugo Largo cover)
So. Central Rain
(Peter Gabriel cover) (Snippet)
(Henry Mancini cover)
(The Velvet Underground cover)