R.E.M. Live at Red Rocks 2009

I had the priviledge of traveling with The National on their summer 2009 tour supporting R.E.M. Shooting with the “pro-sumer” Nikon D80, I braved the press trench, touched with a bit of penis envy alongside the “real” press, with their 14” fixed 1.8 lenses, multiple cameras hugging their paunchy bellies. Nevertheless, I managed to get some good live shots with a 2.8 300mm zoom.

Now, you would think a southern boy like me, having spent a good part of the early 90’s in Athens, GA, would have attended quite a few REM shows – not so. They are one of a few must-see bands I’ve managed, for one reason or another, to miss altogether (The Pixies, The Police, The Smiths). The last opportunity I had to see REM was on the Document tour at the historic Fox Theater in Atlanta. Alas, I gave up the tix to my then-girlfriend after an unanticipated break-up. So much for taking the high road…

Despite the missing live action experience, REM records were, for many of us, one of the sountracks to our late teens and early 20’s. But let’s face it – every band must run it’s creative course–after Monster, I got off the train before the band reached it’s next station.

So… the notion of seeing REM 10 years after their prime at first did not thrill me near as much as the fact that old friends were opening for one of the biggest bands of our time. Let’s face it: reunion tours, whatever the band, tend to be a most cringe-inducing event–they reak of desperation and crass commercial motives. (The only reunion tour worth its salt was Fleetwood Mac in the late 90’s when they fucking brought it with a vengeance.)

Boy was I wrong to assume REM would prove the rule.

Michael Stipe has now proven to be the most charismatic rock star I’ve ever seen. WIth flair, humility and sincere appreciation for the audience’s commitment to the band, Stipe was a thrill to watch as he channeled Morrissey’s fey drama and Jagger’s energy and bravado (and gracefully avoided the douche-baggery of Bono’s over-wrought interpretive dancing).

And who knew (ok, well, a lot of people knew) that the spirit of Big Bass Bad Ass John Entwistle inhabited Mike Mills? Fuckin‘ A. Playing big, fat and furious, Mills leaped to the top of my 5 All-time Best Bass Players list. Who else is on that list? Sting (no cringing, now–he’s a master of disciple and simplicity on the four-string, despite his many tepid and earnest adult-contemporary commercial atrocities); John Paul Jones. ‘Nuff said. Andy Rourke, who gave The Smiths it’s balls; and Andrew Bodnar of The Attractions (listen to Elvis Costello’s Robyn Hitchcock look-alike Bill Rieflin’s solid, if not conventional, performance, I’m sure most of those that care about drummers (hell, you all should!) felt the gaping hole left by Bill Berry’s absence behind the kit. Farming must be really, really fun, I guess.

But enough talk–I’m sure most of you have heard this all before. Scroll down and let the pictures speak for themselves…