September 3rd, 2008

This IS me (by schwitters)Default


Any of my colleagues who asked me last week what I was up to at the weekend were treated to a display of skipping and beaming and a cry of "I'm going to see R.E.M. oh man oh man I'm so happy!"

Compounding my joy, I was going with my Official Best Friend, Sally, whom I've known since we were at playgroup but as far as I can recall I've never been to a gig with before. We met outside Twickenham Stadium, grabbed a Coke and took our seats so we could enjoy a good natter about all the things that had annoyed us lately.

I went for seated tickets on the grounds that from my height you don't see much in the standing area, and five hours is far too long to be standing up however brilliant the band. We were in the North Stand, facing the stage and not too far off the centre of the lower tier.

We thought people in the standing section were waving glowsticks, but on closer examination they were recording on mobile phones. Later Michael Stipe asked everyone with a lit phone to hold it up, and the result was filmed and projected on the screens - a DIY Los Angeles skyline. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

R.E.M. was pretty much the last of my favourite bands that's still together and whose lead singer is still alive (which admittedly narrows the field quite a lot) I had yet to see live. I hadn't been so excited about a concert since Simon & Garfunkel got back together - especially as I'd missed them in 2005.

Thus I was at fever pitch by the time the support bands had finished. The sun was going down, it was still fabulously warm, and the group strode out to wild yells. I warned Sally that I was probably going to jump up and down and sing along and other embarrassing things, and she accepted this equably.

My best chance for embarrassment happened when 'Walk Unafraid' was dedicated to "one of my favourite groups of people...a group that we call 'redheads', and you over here call 'ginge'." A show of hands was requested from anyone who had a special redhead in their life, so I was able to cheer and point at mine, sitting next to me and no doubt wishing me dead.

I rarely go to see bands whose music I don't know very well; I like being able to identify around 90% of the songs they'll play. I think on Saturday I had a hundred percent hit rate, previously achieved only with Paul Simon - I certainly recognised every introduction, though I couldn't always Name That Tune before the chorus (or at all, for the ones whose titles bear little relation to anything that happens in the song).

What I really need is to spend a quiet evening with Michael Stipe while he interprets his back catalogue for me, because his introductions to some of the songs were the first clue I had that the lyrics were anything other than catchy nonsense. Who knew that 'Man Sized Wreath' was about Martin Luther King, Jr, or 'Disturbance at the Heron House' a reworking of Animal Farm? Not me, and I'd been calling myself a fan all these years.

I was delighted to get two tracks from Lifes Rich Pageant, a favourite album of mine and often overlooked, but sad that there was nothing at all from my beloved Around the Sun (another reason to resent missing the 2005 tour in support of the album). Sally also promised me - as she checked out the setlist from previous nights on her mobile phone - that 'Nightswimming' would be coming up shortly, but it never did.

I do tend to like the quieter tracks, which don't fare so well live in a rugby stadium. But I loved hearing 'The One I Love' and 'Losing My Religion', and the new stuff from Accelerate which has been really growing on me.

Sally left during the encore to catch a train back to Cambridge while I remained, standing up and clapping in time with thousands of other fans. I think I grinned all the way through and all the way home, though the smile may have slipped a bit when I accidentally went to Kingston and subsequently round its one-way system at least twice.

My ears were still ringing when I got in.
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