R.E.M. Amsterdam, Westerpark

Michael Stipe, Amsterdam

Michael Stipe on one of his rare trips to the side of the stage.

An open air show in Amsterdam was never going to be as good as the two rehearsal shows at the Olympia theatre in Dublin that I saw last year (read ‘An exercise in terror and music‘), but it was still lovely
to see R.E.M. again, 21 years after my first time at the MCV in Utrecht.

We arrived late and the gates to the circle had already been closed. Bummer. But we joined the small group of people hanging out near the gate stage left. We were let into the circle the minute the gig began. Score!

The crowd was a bit tame – a bit ‘festival’ – and the band seemed a little rusty. Stipey was on autopilot the first few songs, although he loosened up nicely later on. The set was a brave mix of new and old songs, but the crowd only really responded to the older ones. Great to hear Drive and Orange Crush though, and I was happy they did Until the day is done.

There were lots of Dutch Twitterati in the park, but I decided not to join them. Going to gigs is not about drinking or dancing or having fun with people for me. It’s about the music, the performers and the magic that happens between what’s going on on stage and myself and my own memories, thoughts and experiences.

Seen: Amsterdam, Westerpark, July 2, 2008


1. Living Well Is the Best Revenge

2. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

3. Bad Day

4. Drive

5. Man-Sized Wreath

6. Ignoreland

7. Accelerate

8. Walk Unafraid

9. Hollow Man

10. 7 Chinese Bros.

11. Driver 8

12. Houston

13. (Don’t Go Back To) Rockville

14. The Great Beyond

15. The One I Love

16. Until The Day Is Done

17. Let Me In

18. These Days

19. Horse To Water

20. Orange Crush

21. I’m Gonna DJ

22. Supernatural Superserious

23. Losing My Religion

24. Electrolite

25. Pretty Persuasion

26. Man On The Moon

R.E.M.’s Summertime


{ click to enlarge }

Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.

We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.

Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.

We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.

This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.

I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.

They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.

Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.

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