R.E.M., the National and Modest Mouse Tuesday, May 30, 2008 Red Rocks Better Than: Every large-scale rock show I’ve seen for ten years.
Last night was a perfect night for a concert at Red Rocks. What more could you ask for to complement a night of great music besides a picturesque sunset and warm air with an occasional, cool breeze to make the long hike from the lower parking lots to the venue seem bearable?
Unfortunately, as I waited in line to get in, I ended up missing the National. Overhearing the band's expansive, atmospheric music, though, made me wish I had been able to navigate the line more quickly. I made it inside, though, in time to catch Modest Modest Mouse, an outfit clearly beloved by more than a few members of the capacity crowd. The act opened with “Satin in a Coffin” and put its sketchy live reputation to rest with a relatively short but passionately executed set that included songs like “Fire It Up,” “Paper Thin Walls,” “The Good Times Are Killing Me” and “Spitting Venom.” Although Red Rocks can have that weird out of phase sound that comes with wind blurring sound waves, the entire show sounded perfect. Seeing Johnny Marr playing his Fender Jazzmaster in Modest Mouse was a bit surreal, but he fit in with the band’s jangly, angular music well.
R.E.M.’s lighting setup was worthy of KISS, with banks of large LED screens as a backdrop. Throughout the show, cameras interspersed images of the band performing, with pre-programmed images and shots from the crowd, adding a sense of drama and theater to an already impressive show. Opening with “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” R.E.M. created a celebratory mood, which it maintained to the very end. Michael Stipe wore a suit, Mike Mills wore a western style shirt and a cowboy hat (which he doffed after the first song) and Peter Buck wore a leather jacket like the rocker he is, opting for the modest and stylish over the gaudy and ridiculous, just like their music.
The set featured a broad selection of songs from each of the act's studio albums. Reaching as far back as Fables of the Reconstruction, Stipe and company played each song with a renewed sense of vitality, like none of these songs they'd written twenty-seven years ago had worn thin from playing them so many times. The band looked like it was actually having fun as a band again. At several points during the show, Stipe engaged the audience with his usual offbeat, dry sense of humor, including a good-natured jibe at a Denver Post writer who had written an amusing comment about Stipe’s awkward pronunciation of French in the song “Talk About the Passion.”
After “What’s the Frequency Kenneth?” Stipe announced that the next five songs would be political in tone, beginning with “Ignoreland” and finishing with “Accelerate.” Teasing the audience a little with a joking start and then re-start of “World Leader Pretend,” Stipe gave Mike Mills a hard time about having played the wrong song. After an affecting performance of “Hollow Man,” Stipe announced that they had been watching TV backstage earlier in the evening and that he had good news -- Barack Obama had secured the Democratic Party nomination for president. He then dedicated “Walk Unafraid” to Obama and said it would take all of us to get him in office.
After especially stirring performances of “The One I Love” and “Orange Crush,” R.E.M. ended its set with “I’m Gonna DJ.” Since the audience clearly had no plans of leaving, the band came back out for a five-song encore that concluded with “Man on the Moon.” Having played an extremely generous twenty-seven songs in just under two hours, the act never lost momentum during the whole show, solidifying its reputation as one of the strongest live acts in pop music.
-- Tom Murphy
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Living Well is the Best Revenge What’s the Frequency Kenneth? Welcome To the Occupation Ignoreland Man-Sized Wreath World Leader Pretend Accelerate Cuyahoga The Hollow Man Walk Unafraid Houston Electrolite The One I Love Feeling Gravity’s Pull Departure The Final Straw I’ve Been High Let Me In Horse To Water Bad Day Orange Crush I’m Gonna DJ
Supernatural Superserious These Days Losing My Religion Fall On Me Man on the Moon
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: I think REM has written some of the smartest, catchiest pop songs in the world from Chronic Town onward and Accelerate, its latest record, which stands among the act's very best. Random Detail: It drizzled a little even with a mostly blue sky overhead. By the Way: Michael Stipe recommends licorice to help with laryngitis.