A few days ago, or here if you’re on the Internet, Mr. Surf Report shared some of his memories of the recently dissolved R.E.M. I liked R.E.M. and was a huge fan for a couple of years, but I don’t have as many stories as Mr. Surf Report. One thing we do share, however, is the first time we saw R.E.M. I, too, was at the show on or around Dec. 8, 1985.
I was only a couple of weeks into my new job at the record store where I would eventually meet Mr. Surf Report. I don’t have proof, and my friends at the time won’t confirm this, but I suspect I was a complete douche who thought I knew everything because I now worked at a record store. Had I met Mr. Surf Report that night, I suspect he would have recoiled in horror at what a jerk I was. Maybe I wasn’t that bad, but I do know my present self has no desire to meet my 1985 self. Anyway, I’m glad we didn’t meet that night because Mr. Surf Report would have never worked at the record store once he saw me there and history would have been altered. I was probably still a douche when met, but I like to think my douchiness had been watered down.
My memories from the show are vague. I do remember the opening act–The Minutemen–was not well received. D. Boon–who was not a tiny man- was bouncing around the stage and had a lot of energy, but the band was not clicking that night. It happens. I like The Minutemen, but that show was a disappointment. Michael Stipe would later chide the audience for not being kind to The Minutemen, but screw him. The band was off that night. It might have been North Carolina, circa 1985, but we knew good when we heard/saw it.
As for R.E.M., I only have a few specific memories of that night. I remember the band opened with “Feeling Gravitys Pull” and I do remember some of the songs from the setlist being played, but I don’t recall the order. R.E.M. did play Television’s “See No Evil,” but I don’t remember it being the last song. I also thought D. Boon joined bandmate Mike Watt onstage for that song. Apparently, my mind is playing tricks on me with that memory. I also don’t recall “Tush” being played, so I can’t confirm that rumor.
Like Mr. Surf Report, I remember Michael Stipe upping the weird to 11 that night. I also want to remember him walking backstage in midsong, disappearing from sight, only to return a minute later. He never stopped singing during this moment and what he was doing is a mystery I don’t care to solve. Occasionally, you would hear a request for “Radio Free Europe” from members of the audience, but it never happened. Stipe eventually said the song would not be played that night. I also remember R.E.M. being louder than I expected and less jangly than on the albums.
It was a good show and I’m glad I got to go. I occasionally tell people I once saw R.E.M. playing in a high school auditorium and it is usually met with skepticism. Well, in the days before the Internet. These days, I have e-proof.
Mr. Surf Report and I did once attend another great show later (we attended others, mind you, but let’s stick to this one). It was a couple years after the R.E.M. show and it was at a little club in Greensboro that no longer exists. The band was called True Believers from Austin featuring the legendary (no, really) Alejandro Escovedo and Jon Dee Graham. I really don’t have a lot of memories of this show and I won’t go into detail as to why my memory is so fuzzy. I remember True Believers opened with a cover of The Chantays’ “Pipeline” and it was a loud, very intense and excellent show. We were hanging outside the club after the show, giving it some time for the ringing in our ears to subside. The band, or at least a few members, was also hanging around outside and I told them how great the show was. I remember them being polite and thanking me.
Encouraged by their kindness, I proclaimed I wanted the band to play at my wedding. This got a few chuckles before one of them (and I’m going to say it was Alejandro Escovedo) said “Shouldn’t you check with your bride first?”
Mr. Surf Report, with his expert comedic timing, replied, “I don’t mind.”
This got a big laugh from the band members and was a perfect cap to a great evening.
Um, we never did get married if you were wondering. I don’t want to talk about it.
So, what about you, gentle readers? Have you ever seen in a big-time singer or group during the early lean years? Maybe you saw Led Zeppelin at a sock hop? Or Nirvana at a Bar Mitzvah? Or maybe even The Beatles playing at a shithole club in Hamburg? Share with us, won’t you?
Or, have you ever loved a band so much you hired it on the spot to play at your wedding? Or Bar Mitzvah? Let us know in the comments below.
As Brad mentions above, we met a hundred years ago when we were both employed at Peaches Records and Tapes in Greensboro, NC. Later, they changed the name to Peaches Music and Video, but I prefer the original moniker. In any case, Brad and I have remained friends, and his voicemail at work provided this classic, a few years back. -Jeff