Sunday, August 05, 2007

Chronic Town, Poster Torn

I've been thinking about R.E.M. lately, and apparently I'm not alone. A causal scan of the music blogs will find quite a bit on Athens favorite sons. About a month ago the band held court in Dublin and debuted a lot of new material from their forthcoming album. Go here for audio. I've been lukewarm on most of the band's post-Bill Berry material, however some of these new tunes sound pretty good.

Back in college, now that's a different story. Word of REM spread like wildfire in the dorms, to the point that we were rushing out to buy the Chronic Town EP as if our lives depended on it. I was lucky enough to also nab their Hib-Tone 45 of Radio Free Europe, a song that still resonates today, and defines a period in my life like no other (the Holy Trinity of college music for me is Radio Free Europe, New Year's Day and Once In A Lifetime). There's something about the early REM records that just bristles with raw energy. The combination of Stipe's mysterious poetry and Buck's jangling guitar was exciting, and we all wanted to be a part of it. I will admit that their live performances left me a little cold. I remember seeing them in 83, and the band was backlit so you couldn't see their faces, and Stipe's vocals were even less understandable then on the records. They seemed to be striving for ambiguity. Still, we knew we had to be there. At least through Document, REM made some unbelievably great music.

I think the band eventually succumbed to commercial pressure, and my attention for the new sound wavered with Shiny Happy People, It's the End of the World, and even Losing My Religion, a brilliant song that was just overplayed to death.

This live version of Wolves, Lower from the Chronic Town EP captures the excitement of a band on the cusp of worldwide stardom, in a small club that probably could barely contain the energy.

Wolves, Lower - Larry's Hideway, Toronto, July 9, 1983.

Go to the excellent blog That Truncheon Thing for the full show, and some much more lucid recollections of the heyday of REM from a guy that witnessed it all firsthand.

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