This One Goes out to the Band We Love: A Tribute to R.E.M.
Our love of R.E.M., which today announced it has disbanded, goes back to, well certainly Chronic Town (which we snatched up on vinyl last year as part of a Record Store Day promotion) and Murmur, but it really came to fruition in 1986 as the band toured behind Lifes Rich Pageant, arguably its last truly great album that still had an aura of mystery about it. We saw the guys that year at the outdoor Mesa Amphitheatre outside of Phoenix, Arizona, and the band played during a torrential downpour. Singer Michael Stipe appeared to be in a particularly good mood despite starting the set off with the despondent “So. Central Rain,” an appropriate opening tune given the weather conditions. At one point, he coaxed bassist Mike Mills into singing a ZZ Top song and the band previewed a few tracks that would later show up on 1987’s Document. It was a great show and one that got us to start writing passionately about rock ’n’ roll. These were songs that had meaning, even if that meaning was obscured by some vague references to “wolves at the door” and “perfect circles of acquaintances and friends.”
Of course, later, the band would become much more overt about his political inclinations (which were decidedly leftist), but we really liked those early days when you had to pick apart the metaphors in the songs to find out what the hell Stipe was singing. And even then, you were never entirely sure. Later on, we’d get to interview guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills, both of whom came off as really friendly, down-to-earth guys. The one time we made it backstage, Stipe was engrossed in his own world – he eventually really embraced the role of artist and now even dabbles in photography and sculpture – but Buck and Mills seemed like ordinary guys with ordinary lives. While we didn’t follow the band as ardently into the 2000s (though recent albums such as Accelerate and Collapse into Now were solid attempts to return to form), we were still sad to hear the band had “called it a day.” An incredible success story, R.E.M. was a band of true integrity and great significance. And even if they were no longer particularly active, we’ll still miss ’em.