I Meant To Listen To: R.E.M., “Monster”

In my life I feel like I have easily seen over five hundred concerts. At one point I kept a log of who I saw and who the openers were. I wish I kept that up as it was amazing to see how many times I would see a band in an opening slot but never see them actually headline a show. Kings Of Leon come to mind. I may have seen them about five times in the early 2000’s opening for bands like The Strokes and U2, but I have never got out of my way to see them. Not that I don’t like them, their major debut album Youth And Young Manhood is an incredible record.

I also wish I kept these notes for those times I went to shows with a stacked lineup. To this day the best show I’ve been to was in 2010 when LCD Soundsystem freshly off of the release of This Is Happening brought Sleigh Bells with them. I still can’t believe I saw this one-two combo on the same night, and it was probably 40 bucks to see it too.

That’s not to say I’ve seen other incredible show like that. I have and I’m extremely fortunate to do so. That’s not what this post is all about.

There have been times where I would attend a show just to see the opener and leave during the headlining set. I’m sure we’re guilty of that. There have been even more times when I would leave at some point through the headliner’s set. We’ve all done that, too. You’d look at at time and figure, “hell, if I leave now, I’ll be home in a half-hour”. It’s a good strategy if you are familiar with a band’s work and have no problem leaving before the big hit or encore. Or if the venue sucks and you want to get ahead of the traffic jam leaving the parking lot.

No, that’s not why I’m here. I’m here writing about the time I committed my biggest concert-going sin.

In 2008, I was really hitting my stride at being a ‘collector’ of sorts. I wasn’t necessary fully enjoying much of what I was going out to see, I just wanted to be able to say that I had so-and-so play. It got to a point where I was taking some bloated source of pride to just up and leave when I had had my fill. This had nothing to do with beating traffic home, or not wanting to see a headliner. I thought I was a bit too good for all of it.

Months before this particular show in question, I had seen Modest Mouse a closing slot at a festival and was floored by what I saw and wanted to see them again as soon as possible. When they ended their set with “Spitting Venom”, I swear that it lasted for twenty minutes. I was taken to another dimension with that performance and was ready to make the ends of the world to see it one more time.

Fortunately enough, they were announced to be the supporting act for R.E.M. on their upcoming summer tour. Cool, I thought to myself. I’d get to see Modest Mouse and hear a few hits from the 80’s. I dragged my good friend to come with me for the show as he had interest in seeing Modest Mouse as well and I wanted him to experience everything I witnessed that night months ago. Since we were there mainly to see Modest Mouse we enjoyed a few beers in the parking lot while the first band was playing.

That first band? None other than The National.

So picture this: Not witnessing The National playing an opening set, and then later bouncing out on R.E.M. six songs into their set. That tour? It turns out it was R.E.M.’s last. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did. And to bring a friend along for all of this? I’m horrible. You could call me a Monster.

Amirite?

Only knowing R.E.M. by their biggest hits (you know the ones), I never gave much attention to the deeper cuts, let alone the full albums. Out of the very few songs I saw them perform that night, I kinda only recognized “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” I didn’t really get much out of it that night, since I’d often skip that track when it showed up on my Greatest Hits CD. It took years to appreciate how great of an album opener this song is. Punchy, with a killer bass riff and a guitar solo sounding like a disruptive meteor cutting through the night.

Because I never dug into their catalog, I never got what R.E.M. was all about until far too late. The radio hits were monumental, no doubt, but there was far more than met the ears. I had sadly mistaken the band by their crisply polished production and not listening to their more grittier releases. By not appreciating the band while they were active, I may have been far more excited to hear the fuzzy static of “Circus Envy” at that fateful show. I also missed my train departing to alt-music paradise at a younger age. I feel Monster would have been that gateway for me, had I paid attention and I probably would have been a whole lot cooler in middle school if I did. Going back and listening to “I Don’t Sleep, I Dream”, and “Strange Currencies” and thinking maybe if I had listened to more music back then that swayed a bit more mature, maybe I would have turned out a bit more well-rounded?

Star 69” and “Crush With Eyeliner” would have definitely helped in my lofty ambitions to be a guitar player, or at least it would have help create better structured songs. But after a few spins of Monster, I constantly go back to “Bang And Blame”. A song that is eerily reminiscent to “Losing My Religion” with it’s ability to create a desperate voice in an empty room trying to take up space only to resort by shouting the chorus. It’s haunting and it creates so much tension, and I love it.

While I can’t go back in time and listen and support R.E.M. while they were around and actually appreciated what they did in real-time, I can dig into their discography and try to unlock the pieces that created this unbelievable body of work that will forever influence bands that will play concerts that I will make a much better effort attending.

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