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Old 03-29-2010, 10:36 PM   #69 (permalink)
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: The Conn
Posts: 1,332

About time I got this started again.

Released 1990
Warner Bros. Records

That better not be styrofoam, pal.

In support of their first major label record, R.E.M. embarked on their first world tour in 1988. Shows on the Green Tour found the once-unknown Athens Georgia band playing stadiums and selling out arenas for the first time. This change in scope would force the band to take a different approach to performing live, and noticeable changes in the band's confidence and playing ability can be observed on this film, known simply as Tourfilm, which documents an arena show from 1989. The tracklisting and more, after the jump.

1. "Stand"
2. "The One I Love"
3. "So. Central Rain (Detail)"
4. "Turn You Inside-Out"
5. "Belong"
6. "Orange Crush"
7. "Feeling Gravity's Pull"
8. "These Days"
9. "We Live As We Dream, Alone/World Leader Pretend"
10. "Poem: I'll Believe In Anything When I'm There.../Future 40's (String of Pearls)/I Believe"
11. "I Remember California"
12. "Get Up"
13. "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)"
14. "Pop Song 89"
15. "Fall on Me"
16. "You Are The Everything"
17. "Begin the Begin"
18. "With the People"
19. "King Of Birds"
20. "Low" (Detail)
21. "Finest Worksong"
22. "Perfect Circle"
23. "After Hours" (credits)

Tourfilm opens with a bang. Before the foot tapping organ riff of "Stand" comes in, the listener hears the roar of a massive crowd cheering on their favorite band. Incidentally, this caught me off guard. Because of this project, I've been listening to R.E.M. chronologically. Before I popped in the audio CD of Tourfilm, I had effectively begun to think of R.E.M. as anyone else might have in 1988. I imagined R.E.M. playing small bars and clubs across the country, not stadiums and arenas. When the thundering roar of the crowd came in, that all changed.

Tourfilm finds R.E.M. at the very moment at which their career was about to take wing. Listening, I find that the reason R.E.M. was the most successful of the college rock bands was that they were willing to adapt and change. While contemporaries The Feelies were breaking little new ground with "Only Life" (1987) and Pylon had all but given up hopes of a new record, R.E.M. was refocusing their talents, turning up the megaphone, and blasting awesome new music to a new world audience.

Rarely does the band look back. The only song from Murmur performed here is the beautiful Perfect Circle, and while So. Central Rain is represented, it is merely a segment of the song. Rather, R.E.M. uses Tourfilm as a vehicle to document their moving forward. A demo version of the Out of Time (1991) classic "Low" is present, as well as a performance of the much maligned "Belong", which would later appear on the same album. Personally though, I think the song is pretty good, especially this live version, free from any overproduction.

With this forward thinking attitude, the band really shines on Green/Document Era classics such as the anthemic "Orange Crush." Prefaced by a sarcastically sung "BE ALL THAT YOU CAAAAAAN BE... IN THE ARMY", the band launches into this upbeat song with a certain visceral energy. Not the immature punk energy of a band just getting on its feet, but rather the channeled energy of a band with a purpose and a proven method of conveying their message. As the drums pound and Buck's dirty riff repeats, Michael sings into a megaphone while the crowd whoops and shouts like a machine. The performance is perfect, and the message is clear. R.E.M. were ready to truly take on the world.

For Document songs like Finest Worksong, the mixing problems present on the studio versions are cleaned up, and more energy is put into them, revealing the true quality of the songs, and their place on the live stage.

As a stadium rock show, many of the songs performed on Tourfilm are more upbeat, up-tempo numbers. While these are nearly all well done, with the exception of the mediocre performance of "Stand", some of the best moments appear on the lighter side of the show. Prefaced by a poem, the countrified World Leader Pretend rings beautifully onstage. Similarly, Fall on Me and You Are the Everything are played with serene beauty not usually found at shows the scope of Tourfilm. Even the organ-led Murmur classic Perfect Circle sounds fresh and beautiful.

That said, the best performance has to be that of the epic "Feeling Gravity's Pull", the nightmare inducing song from Fables of the Reconstruction. Peter Buck's guitar tone is as haunting as ever, and as the song picks up, the band leaves their comfort zone in a way that was only then possible. Even the gorgeous bridge section shines brilliantly amidst the jagged-edged verses.

All in all, I would argue that Tourfilm lacks cohesion if only it weren't so damn awesome. Many of the songs sound even better here than in studio, which is saying something, given R.E.M.'s usually excellent production. A great live film/record.

Key Tracks: "Orange Crush", "Feeling Gravity's Pull", "We Live As We Dream, Alone/World Leader Pretend"

(for the audio only)


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