R.E.M – ” Live At The Spectrum “

Posted: December 8, 2022 in MUSIC

Georgia rockers R.E.M. were at a crossroads in 1995. The band Bill Berry, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe — had won international acclaim and mainstream success after a decade-and-a-half upward climb through the independent music scene of the 80s. Propelled by MTV and the burgeoning alternative rock radio format, their albums “Out of Time” (1991) and “Automatic for the People” (1992) generated massive hits like “Losing My Religion” and “Man on the Moon.” But the band also spent those early years of the decade somewhat reclusively, not touring and making only scattered public appearances.

Following the ballad-heavy introspection of “Automatic” and the psychedelic orchestrations of “Time“, 1994’s “Monster” LP   the band’s ninth saw it embrace the limelight once again. Widely heralded as R.E.M.’s return to “rock,” or at least rock signifiers like amped-up guitars and blistering drumbeats commingling at a propulsive pace, it added more massive hits to the canon — “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?”, “Bang and Blame,” “Crush With Eyeliner.”

But when the band prepped for its “Monster” tour, which launched in early 1995, it was very conscious of its position: these were four guys in their mid-30s who had been playing together for a over third of their lives. They had an audience hungry to see them perform and the wind of several successful releases in their sails, but their lives were also evolving in different directions families were being started, new cities were being settled down in — and all this amid a turbulent, ever-changing industry.

“I think all of us kind of realize we’re probably never going to be in a position like this again,” Stipe said in the 1995 documentary short Rough Cut. “We’re probably never going to be this popular, and able to do a world tour on this scale. And I’m looking forward to it! I’m going to have a ball.”

This was the R.E.M. that came to Philadelphia for not one, not two, but three headlining nights at The Spectrum in South Philadelphia on October 12th through the 14th of 1995. These shows are, to rock fans who today are in their mid- to late-30s, somewhat legendary; newcomers saw them for the first time on this tour. Enthusiasts saw all three nights — and the band played to the devotees with varying setlists leaning heavy on “Monster” and newer-than-the-new-album tunes, stuff that would make up 1996’s “New Adventures In Hi-Fi”. Mega-fans even followed them across the country, show-to-show. 

Seeing R.E.M. at the Spectrum on 10/13/95 changed everything I thought about music. They did so many things that young me never thought a band selling out arenas might do. I remember hearing or reading interviews where they plainly stated that this would not be a greatest hits tour; they would be playing mostly “Monster” material and songs written while on tour. That night, I found that the energy of a set like that tops any nostalgia set. All of my favorite shows since then have been mostly new material. Hearing a new song for the first time in a live setting is maybe the most exciting moment of any show for me.

That night, “Revolution” left a huge impact, Of course, that one wouldn’t even make the next record. They also played “Binky the Doormat”, “Undertow”, and “Departure”, “The Wake-Up Bomb” was already really familiar as the band performed it on their MTV awards. Not that the audience were wanting to hear the old songs the appearance of “So. Central Rain” in the encore was a huge surprise. And the louder live arrangement of “Man on the Moon” gave a whole new appreciation for a song.

I have been a pretty big R.E.M. fan They knew exactly when to work in the slower songs. “Star 69” ended the main set before they came back to a wash of noise and feedback for “Let Me In.” A band that I’d always considered a “mostly quiet” band (despite the publicized return to rock of Monster“) owned that stage with so much passion and energy.

Compare their run at the Spectrum, where 22 songs were played all three nights and only three originals didn’t repeat at all (“Try Not to Breathe” on Thursday; “Welcome to the Occupation” and “So. Central Rain” on Friday), with their three-night stand at Madison Square Garden, where a dozen songs rewarded the most devoted fans (“Drive,” “Me in Honey,” “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream” and “Star Me Kitten” on Night One; “Circus Envy,” “Welcome to the Occupation,” “Half a World Away,” “Orange Crush” and “So. Central Rain” on Night Two; and “Disturbance at the Heron House,” “You” and “Near Wild Heaven” on Night Three).
Fine also kept a meticulous tour journal, which she shared excerpts from — you can find those below this video for the October 14th Spectrum show. 

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