Monday, April 04, 2005


Here are some things you need to know about me. The name of my previous cat was “Stipe”. I named him that because he had white fur, obviously. I don’t quite remember now why that made sense, but it was definitely the rationale at the time. He is now buried in the front garden. When I did art at school, and it came time to start doing portraits – you know, when you bring in a poster of a celebrity, and copy that poster onto a grid to make a lead pencil portrait, thereby learning the wonders of shading – well, I did a portrait of Michael Stipe. It’s still on my wall. You will remember from art class that when all the possibilities of lead pencil have been exhausted, we graduate to actual paintings. Using paint. So I did a painting of Michael Stipe. Actually, for some reason, I put Michael’s head on Picasso’s body and restricted my palette to blue, black and white. Does this make sense to anyone? I have no idea why I did that. But I still have that painting, too. I also have an REM poster section on my wall. Most of the posters are photocopies of a calendar my sister got for being in the REM fanclub, circa Monster. Between us, we own pretty much all of REM’s albums [except for the Best Of one they released last year – as if]. My sister and I drew our whole family into our REM thing. Not just our parents and brother, but cousins too. REM albums were played in the car on family trips. We sang along. Indeed, I can’t now think of the Grampians without associating it with New Adventures In Hi-Fi, or Mallacoota without Green. We even have a pointless four-disc set, called The Automatic Box, with B-Sides, Instrumental Tracks, Vocal Tracks, and Cover Versions, and I once spent hours lying on the floor at Blairgowrie with REM’s cover of The Lion Sleeps Tonight playing on repeat. For hours. The only ‘single’ I have EVER bought is The Great Beyond. I do not buy singles. I buy albums. It’s like, part of my identity - I don’t buy singles. Buying singles is weird. But I broke with that identity in order to buy a song from some movie I never saw, simply because it was an REM song. And I can’t actually tell you the number of times I have watched the REM documentary, Road Movie, which I taped off the TV. Also, do you know that I keep a close watch on the career of Stephen Dorff, always looking for signs of his impending massive come-back, because that doco revealed he is a friend of Michael Stipe’s? Do you know that I only got into NIRVANA after I found out Kurt Cobain was a friend of Michael Stipe’s? Do you know that I make a point of seeing and liking Single Cell Productions films – Velvet Goldmine, American Movie, Being John Malkovich, Saved! - because that’s Michael Stipe’s production company? [And also because they’re awesome movies. Lucky.] Are you starting to see that maybe REM was the first band I was ever into, and that it kind of became ‘a thing’ in our family? Do you think this catalogue of evidence is creepy enough yet? Well, I saved the worst proof of my slavish devotion to REM for last – I actually bought REM’s most recent album, Around The Sun. Then, I LISTENED to it. Even though I KNEW it was quite terrible BEFORE I bought it! I AM CRAZY! I told someone this the other night, and they called me a ‘completist’. Touché, monsieur.

So anyway, I should probably get to the point. The thing is, until tonight, I had never seen REM live. Ten years ago, I decided not to leave our family vacation in Mallacoota to take the nine-hour bus ride back to Melbourne to see them, and then return to Mallacoota on a nine-hour bus ride the next day. I have always regretted that decision. My sister did see them. And she said it was all worth it. So, you might assume that I became very excited when I found out a few months back that REM were coming here again, giving me an opportunity to undo the mistake I made as a 13 year-old girl. But I wasn’t excited at all. In fact, I was like, SHIT. And initially, I decided I wouldn't go. Because it would be TEN YEARS LATE. WHEN THEY’VE GONE TO SHIT. TOURING A SHIT ALBUM. AND BILL’S LONG GONE. And, did I mention HOW SHIT THEY ARE NOW? But time passed, and I saw them play one of their shit new songs on Parkinson. And, when they played it, it didn’t seem so shit. So I tried again with the album, but it was still a really fucking shit album. Really terrible. But I started thinking, if I don’t go and see them now, I might NEVER see them. I might never see MICHAEL STIPE. And he was my Favourite Person In The World for a good four years. Yeah, I’m kinda over the band at this point, but, it’s completely incongruous to the story of my life that I never see REM properly, live in concert. So I bought a ticket. And it was expensive. So I began rationalising the purchase by telling myself to keep in mind that I would also be seeing Little Birdy, who I like well enough, and Bright Eyes, who I want to get into. Anyway, today came - concert day - and I was still very trepidatious about how SHIT it was going to be. I spoke to my sister in Darwin, and she managed to sound jealous. So that made me feel better. But she’s gagging for live music anyway, because all they get up there is The Cat Empire and John Butler. Shudder. But anyway, I got to Rod Laver Arena, and this is what happened......


Little Birdy were off the stage by 8.15, and Bright Eyes’ set can’t have been more than 20 minutes long. And this is the set list, as far as I can remember, of REM’s show:

I Took Your Name
Bad Day
The Outsider
So Fast So Numb
Electron Blue
Turn You Inside Out
At My Most Beautiful
Leaving New York
Orange Crush
I Wanted To Be Wrong
Final Straw
Imitation Of Life
The One I Love
Walk Unafraid
Losing My Religion

What’s The Frequency Kenneth?
Everybody Hurts
Country Feedback
I’m Gonna DJ
Man On The Moon

If, before I went, you had shown me this breakdown of what the night would offer me, I probably would have stayed home. Seriously, it reads like a specially tailored Nightmare Of Disappointment for me. But that is just on paper. Because, in reality, IT WAS FUCKING GREAT!

I only caught the last two songs from Little Birdy, but hurrah, they were Excited and Relapse. I mean, I didn’t expect to hear Andy Warhol anyway, so, no disappointment so far.

Then came Bright Eyes’ [admittedly short, but] fucking wonderful set. I had not heard ANY Bright Eyes music before this. I'd told myself I should really listen out for it, and had read all those articles about Conor Oberst, and promised a girl I work with that I would make sure to get into her totally amazing favourite band/person. But I still hadn’t got around to it before tonight. But who cares about that now? I LOVED IT! I love HIS VOICE, I love HIM, I loved everything I heard, I wished I was closer, and I wanted to become obsessed. And I began thinking, “damn, damn, DAMN! Now I really desperately want to go on Tuesday when Bright Eyes play the Prince with New Buffalo. Oh GOD! How gorgeous and special is that gig going to be? Sob. Damn my stupid fucking essays!” So, my advice to anyone in Melbourne on Tuesday night is to go and see Bright Eyes at the Prince of Wales if at all possible. Please, YOU HAVE TO GO!

Anyway, then came REM. And I have never heard Michael Stipe’s voice sound better. Truly. He sounded FANTASTIC! I was in AWE.

They kept choosing to play songs that weren’t on my wish-list, and songs from the new hated album. But IT DIDN’T MATTER! It all sounded amazing! And I realised that you just have to trust performing artists to know what’s good for you. They know what they are doing. All the songs I thought would be crappy and boring WEREN’T CRAPPY AND BORING AT ALL! They were EXCELLENT! Indeed, I overheard a lady behind me complaining four songs in that she’d only heard one song she knew so far. And I was like a) that’s what you get for not being a slavish completist, and b) lady, you’re never going to hear these songs sound better! They generally don’t leap out at you like they are doing tonight! JUST LISTEN AND ENJOY. REM KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING! Anyway, I just gave myself up to the experience, because REM were just sounding SO GOOD at whatever they turned their attention to. I WAS SO HAPPY. Years and years worth of repressed REM-love started filling my insides. It was great! I still think we could have done without Everybody Hurts [although, the lighters coming out were HILARIOUS], and I would have loved to have heard Tongue, Lotus, World Leader Pretend, and also It’s The End Of The World As We Know It [just so that I could tick “yelling Leonard Bernstein!!!” off my list of things done during life]. But WHATEVER. IT WAS ALL FANTASTIC.

Song highlights can be divided into two groups. Group 1 Highlights are songs that are actually good, and remain good, or get even gooder, when played live. Group 2 Highlights are songs that I thought were BAD, TERRIBLE in fact, but which tonight somehow became EXCELLENT.

Group 1 Highlights
I Took Your Name, Turn You Inside Out, Electrolite, Walk Unafraid, Country Feedback
[I actually squealed when they started playing this. I also did yet another thing that I would only ever do with REM – I called my sister in Darwin and held the phone up so she could hear Country Feedback too. I AM SUCH A LOSER!]

Group 2 Highlights
The Outsider, Electron Blue, Final Straw
Truly, these songs sounded SO GOOD that I wanted to come home and listen to Around The Sun again. But then I did, and the recorded versions STINK. They’re so unlike what I heard tonight in terms of excellence and cool and energy and panache, you would never think they could ever be good. And, listening to them on the album actually KILLS the memory of how great they were live. How WEIRD. How AWFUL.

Anyway, HOW MUCH DO I STILL LOVE REM? HEAPS! Dangerous levels of love are back. And you can bet your ass I'm watching Denton this week. MICHAEL STIPE! ACTUAL MICHAEL STIPE!

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