LISBON, Portugal -- In contrast to the intimate, experimental nature of their last
couple of albums, R.E.M. opened their first major tour in four years Thursday with a raw, joyful,
As the Athens, Ga., rockers pulled rarely played songs such as "Pilgrimage" -- from their first
album, 1983's Murmur -- as well as "The One I Love" and "Sweetness Follows" from
their long catalog, singer Michael Stipe joked, "In the last four years we've done only benefit
concerts or six-song shows, so we had to choose some old songs we don't know very much.
So sing along loud and well."
The band also unveiled a new, midtempo song, "The Great Beyond," during the two-hour
show at the Pavillao Atlantico, a large arena in the renewed part of this capital city. The song is
from the score the band has just completed for the Milos Forman movie about the late
comedian Andy Kaufman that takes its name from R.E.M.'s 1993 hit "Man on the Moon." The
film, starring Jim Carrey, is due in October.
The tour, which is scheduled to reach the United States on Aug. 9 -- in Los Angeles -- after
moving through Europe, is R.E.M.'s first major outing since the ill-fated Monster tour,
during which drummer Bill Berry suffered an aneurysm. Berry quit the band two years later,
leaving it to continue as a trio: Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills.
R.E.M. have made spot live appearances since the Monster tour and did a five-week
series of low-key television appearances last year to promote their most recent album,
Up (1998). In Lisbon, they used the same expanded lineup as on those
appearances, with ex-Beck drummer Joey Waronker and multi-instrumentalists from two
Seattle pop bands: Ken Stringfellow of the Posies and Scott McCaughey of the Young
R.E.M. took the stage at 10 p.m., following a set by British glam-rockers Suede, and opened
with three of their '90s hits -- "Lotus"
(RealAudio excerpt), from Up, "What's the
Frequency, Kenneth?," from Monster (1994) and "Losing My Religion" (RealAudio excerpt)
from the 1991 smash Out of Time.
During the opening song, a lotus-shaped neon sign flashed behind the band, suggesting,
perhaps, a desire to forget the hardships of the past tour. Eating the fruit of the lotus plant,
according to mythology, is supposed to put one in an ecstatic fog.
The sign was one of about 50 that flashed on and off over the course of the show. They were
in the shapes of various objects and figures, some suggesting specific songs -- such as the
lotus -- and some echoing the cover art of Up (1998). On one side of the stage was a
large reproduction of the yellow banana from the cover of '60s art-rockers the Velvet
Underground's debut album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, which was designed
by pop-art painter Andy Warhol.
Although the arena's acoustics were less than ideal, the crowd of 15,000 went wild. "I've been
waiting to see them for quite a long time," said 22-year-old Cristina Marques, from
Entroncamento, a town near Lisbon.
Mills wore a glittering, Nashville-styled suit similar to the one he wore on the 1995 tour. Stipe,
who frequently stared at the audience as if he were relieved just to see live fans again,
dressed in a simple, unglamorous blue shirt and black pants, while Buck wore a black and
"Pilgrimage" was the set's first unexpected choice. "I think they hadn't played that song since
1985 or something like that," the band's manager, Bertis Downs, said after the show. "They ...
chose some older, seldom-played ones to make the show more interesting."
Other surprises, besides the rarely performed "The One I Love" -- the band's first major pop
hit, from 1987 -- and the never-before-played "Sweetness Follows," from
Automatic for the People (1992), included "Life and How to Live It," from the 1985 album Fables of
Stipe returned alone with an acoustic guitar for an encore version of "I'm Not Over You." The
band re-emerged to play another four songs, ending with the sing-along anthem "It's the End
of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine)." Then a green sign reading "Thank You"
flashed for several minutes.
"I'm really glad they played some old songs, because this tour will be the first chance for
many fans like me to see them perform," Marques said.