If you care at all, by now surely you've heard: Michael Stipe, Peter Buck and Mike Mills have called it a day. Good Lord -- has it really been 31 years? "I hope our fans realize this wasn't an easy decision," Stipe writes on the band's website, "but all things must end, and we wanted to do it right, to do it our way." And so that, as they say, is that.
As I was telling our music editor, who was born right around the first time I saw the band at the Bronco Bowl in September '84, they were my gateway drug to American indie rock; before there was Westerberg, there was Stipe. By the time I got to the University of Texas in '86, R.E.M. was college radio -- every single, every B-side, every cough, sneeze and burp in regular rotation. Pete says he never much cared for R.E.M., which I understand; New Adventures in Hi-Fi may be the most recent record I'll listen to with any regularity, and it came out in '96. To him, they're dinosaurs.
Still, over on DC9, at Pete's request, I'm about to post those three songs MTV carried live during the band's Reunion Arena stopover on September 19, 1995, during the Monster tour; Radiohead opened, one highlight among many that greatest-hits night. But here's something I've been holding on to for just the right moment, something hanging out in the Internet without anything to ID it except for the words "Fair park bandshell 1986." Ah, my favorite local music venue, still so sadly underused.
Recorded a year before that show at Moody Coliseum, it's an extraordinary keepsake wonderfully preserved, its setlist brimming with early-days songs and B-sides and Wire and Iggy Pop covers. And, yes, Stipe begins the show by admonishing the crowd to stand back from the stage, lest the band stop and walk away: "I would like to make the request before we come on stage that everyone please try to be civil tonight so we don't have to stop playing, especially the people directly in front of the stage." Won't have to worry about that any more.
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