R.E.M. kicked off what they've jokingly referred to as a "non-tour" in support of their new album, Up, on Wednesday night with a rare, intimate club-show in New York City.
Playing and chatting it up with an audience of 500 fan-club members and contest winners at the Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, the group, which is due to release its first album without original drummer Bill Berry on Tuesday, performed for two hours during a taping for an upcoming MTV special, "R.E.M. Uplink."
"Saying it was a 'real treat' is a major understatement," said fan-club
member Sujan Hong, 22, who was at the show.
As one of the hundreds of fan-club members in the metropolitan New York
area klucky enough to catch R.E.M., Hong -- who has seen the band nine
times previously -- said she felt privileged to witness the superstar group
in an intimate setting.
"I've only seen them in places like Madison Square Garden, in big-arena
rock shows," said Hong, an office manager for the New York rock-publicity
firm Girlie Action, which is handling publicity for the upcoming glam film
"Velvet Goldmine." The film was co-produced by R.E.M. singer Michael
Stipe's film company.
The one-hour MTV special is scheduled to air
9 p.m. EST on Wednesday and will be offered as a free simulcast to radio stations that wish to carry it in the U.S., according to R.E.M. manager Bertis Downs. "The name of the show is obviously [playing] off the album title but also the fact that the show is being offered to radio stations," Downs said.
The 15-song set that will appear on the MTV
special will include such R.E.M. classics as
"Man on the Moon" and "E-Bow the Letter" (RealAudio excerpt), the moody single from
the group's 1996 album, New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Like the recorded version, the "Uplink" performance of the tune will feature a guest vocal by punk poetess Patti Smith, who joined the group onstage for the taping.
"It was a gorgeous, really compelling performance of that song," Downs said.
The veteran art-pop group came off as highly animated at the show, Hong said, with guitarist Peter Buck pulling out some "crazy leg kicks" and vocalist Michael Stipe chatting a lot and doing funky dances across the stage. "They seemed as excited as the fans to be playing in such a small place," Hong said.
Adding to the energy was the band's choice of tracks to perform. According to Hong, when the band pulled out its first hit single, the punk-pop flavored "Radio Free Europe," from its 1983 debut, Murmur, "the place went nuts. People were pogoing and there was a near mosh-pit."
The group was scheduled to appear on the "Late Show With David Letterman" on Thursday night (Oct. 22), to perform its latest single, "Daysleeper" (RealAudio excerpt). The band is set to return to the show Friday night to perform another track from Up. Also on Friday, R.E.M. will tape a "Storytellers" special for VH1, which is slated to air in early December.
Following the VH1 taping, the group will fly to
Europe for a three-week promotional tour
consisting of more fan-club radio concerts in
England (BBC Radio One, on Sunday),
Germany (Nov. 2), Sweden (Nov. 9) and Italy
(Nov. 11). R.E.M. also will tape performances
for the English television programs "Later With
Jools Holland" and "TFI Friday."
Berry quit the group last fall after saying, among other things, that he wasn't interested in being involved in a grueling tour again. Ironically, R.E.M. had originally planned a world tour in support of Up, but they changed their minds a month before the album was due, citing their desire not to be away from home for more than a year.
In keeping with the more experimental vibe of the new album, Buck said part of the group's decision not to tour was inspired by its desire to keep breaking new ground as a band.
"Having done a huge amount of stuff over the last 18 years," Buck said, "we could go back and touch on some of our former glories or whatever, and maybe there are things we could do that would sell more records, but it's just way more important for us to push ourselves forward and challenge ourselves. Anything that isn't challenging, I just don't have any interest in it" (interview excerpt).
In fact, Buck said the group isn't even sure what it wants to do in the future as a touring entity.
"It's a pleasure doing it, but I really don't want to be doing it for any reason other than I'm doing exactly what I want to do," Buck said. "Any situation where, 'Oh, this is what's expected of you,' I just don't want to do that. So, that's one reason ... we're not touring this time."
Upon the band's return from Europe, the
"non-tour" will wrap up with tapings for the
PBS children's show "Sesame Street" and talk shows "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" and the "Rosie O'Donnell Show."
The promotional tour, like the group's set at
last weekend's Bridge School Benefit
organized by grunge-godfather Neil Young
and his wife, Pegi, will find the band
augmented by drummer Joey Waronker of rap-folkie Beck's band. Also joining R.E.M. onstage will be multi-instrumentalists Ken Stringfellow (Posies) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows).
"It was back to just being a rock show," Downs said of the MTV taping. "This was like 15 years ago, just seeing the band in a tiny place and the guys feeling very happy to be there."