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flag US - Georgia - Full Moon 34 - 07/28/99

Arena Oberhausen, June 26th 1999

The last time R.E.M. made it to this part of Germany was over ten years ago, in May of '89, when they played Duesseldorf and Bielefeld on their Green Tour. The only time they returned after that was for an outdoor festival at the Dutch border in the summer of '95 with a supporting cast of The Cranberries, Belly and the then-unknown Oasis. From what people tell me, the '95 show sucked.

So when they announced the dates for their Up tour I was kinda surprised to see that they had planned a show at hometown's football ground, the Georg-Melches-Stadion in Essen, with a capacity of around 40,000. Not only is it probably the worst football stadium to stage a gig at, but it also seemed a little too big. And I was right. A few weeks before the show was due to take place they had sold less than 10.000 tickets and so they changed the venue to the Arena in Oberhausen - and they didn't even sell out this venue even though it only holds around 12.000. But at least it was indoors and that's why I went. Once you entered the venue you realized why they didn't sell any tickets: R.E.M. have no real fans (any more). It was mostly middle-aged folks and the few younger people who showed up were mostly the kinda crowd who has seen three shows in the 90s before: German superstar Westernhagen, Bryan Adams and U2. They wanted entertainment and came cause they liked the video for Daysleeper. Unfortunately, R.E.M. acted accordingly and ignored all their early classics like Murmur or Reckoning. More of that later.

First on were Wilco, who came out at 6.45pm for a quick 30 minute opening set. They seemed to be pretty nervous and obviously lacked a big crowd reaction. They played a fine selection of songs culled from all their four albums, and even opened with Woody Guthrie's California Stars. Jeff Tweedy had a bit of a hard time to get used to the huge crowd it seemed, but they did a very welcome I Must Be High and closed with a rocking Monday. Nice.

Suede were to follow at 8pm, but even though I absolutely loved the three shows I've seen previously, their 45 minute set was a big disappointment. Mostly made up of songs from the last two albums, it was just (too) loud, too raw and even though the crowd apparently liked what they saw it lacked any kind of real emotion. Brett and the crew seemed to have fun though, they were jumping around as usual putting on their regular freak show. The Beautiful Ones was one of the few highlights as was the only ballad of the night, the very fitting Saturday Night (it was a Saturday after all!). The classic Animal Nitrate was the only older song and for me at least it proved that the songs written by original guitarist Bernard Butler are ten times better than anything that followed. They quickly thanked R.E.M. and then disappeared.

Another 45 minutes later R.E.M. at last took to the stage. Surrounded by all kinds of weird neon signs, that created a freaky red- light-discrict feel, they opened with Lotus and Wake-Up Bomb. They crowd obviously went nuts, but I was unimpressed still. It took them till the sixth song to play any kind of recognizable classic. It was Fall On Me, the song Michael Stipe once picked as his alltime favourite R.E.M. song. And of course he's right! The first half of the show was mostly dedicated to new material and it came as no surprise that Daysleeper got the biggest cheer of the night so far. Personally, I liked Driver 8 (dedicated to Wilco) at lot better, even though all the songs were 1:1 copies of the recorded versions, that the three remaining members of R.E.M. played with the help of seasoned session players Scott McCaughey (guitar, bass, keyboards), Joey Waronker (drums, great shoes) and former Posies-mainman Ken Stringfellow (keyboards, guitar). The only exception was a very strong Walk Unafraid, which was actually better than on the album and on par with the old stuff. A very nice Sweetness Follows was one of the few unexpected obscurities they did and The One I Love had everybody going mad. Then Peter Buck grabbed the mandolin and Stipe said words to the effect of: "There are two kinds of entertainment, hope you know where to draw the line". Losing My Religion followed and the crowd was actually singing louder than Stipe... I kinda expected them to stay on the Greatest-Hits-route from here on, but they returned to the new material for a few songs and played At My Most Beautiful for Suede. Unfortunately Stipe didn't have anything to say really. Either you couldn't understand a word he was mumbling or he just said rock star crap like: "hey, how are's kinda hot in here".

They closed - inevitably - with Man On The Moon just to come back for an half an hour encore - including three songs of their weakest album ever, Monster. They did ...Kenneth, Crush With Eyeliner and Tongue, back-to-back even. Why they chose to play them as encores and skipped stuff like Stand, Everybody Hurts or Perfect Circle instead is beyond me, but oh well. At least they did Cuyahoga (a real treat!) plus a quick romp through Iggy Pop's The Passenger (which sadly was way too slow and didn't rock at all) They ended their two hour show with a disasterous rendtion of It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine), where everything seemed to fall apart. Crowd still loved it - of course. So there you go: It was a (pre-planned) show, an "event", put on for whoever turns up. It could've been anywhere in the US, France, Russia, or Austria just as well. There was no real interaction between the band on stage and the crowd. It was pretty sad, even though the song selection (not the running order) was quite nice. If you wanted entertainment, that's what you got, no doubt. But if you thought R.E.M. - one of the three most important US acts of the 80's and one of the biggest selling band in the 90's - still had something to say and would use an opportunity of a high-scale tour like this to make a difference, it was a disaster.

Copyright © 1999 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

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