September 4th, 2010

R.E.M., “Drive” – 11.19.92

It was kind of a perfect storm: R.E.M. had released what is easily one of the best albums of the decade and, months later, the Reagan/Bush era had been put on notice thanks to Bill Clinton’s win in the 1992 presidential elections.

R.E.M. chose not to tour with Automatic for the People. But, nestled in the warm embrace of their home town, Athens, Georgia, and in the name of a Greenpeace benefit, they played an invitation-only event at the 40 Watt Club.

The version of Drive that came out of this show is still one of my favorite live performances ever. Yeah. I just said “ever.”

I had a copy of this show. It was the first bootleg I’d ever fall in love with. Thanks to the professional recording, it sounded fantastic, and the setlist was brilliant.

“Drive”
“Monty Got a Raw Deal”
“Everybody Hurts”
“Man on the Moon”
“Losing My Religion”
“Country Feedback”
“Begin the Begin”
“Fall On Me”
“Me In Honey”
“Finest Worksong”
“Drive” – second take for the Greenpeace recording
“Love is All Around” – cover of The Troggs
“Fun Time/Radio Free Europe” – cover of Iggy Pop, bleeds into “RFE”

Somewhere along the way, I lost the album. And I’ve been looking for it since.

To be honest, it hasn’t been that far away. Because of the nature of the performances – rare live recordings of songs from Automatic for the People, superb sound quality, a fantastic re-imagining of what would become one of R.E.M.’s biggest singles – the show was split up and released as CD B-Sides to many of Monster’s singles. I have many of these singles and so, unknowingly, I had a good chunk of this performance already hibernating on my iPod.

But, to quote a post from “rec.music.rem,” the sum of the songs does not equal the brilliance of the whole show.

…While the songs themselves sound incredible (especially “Country Feedback”, which by late 1992 had not yet been turned into the pompous dirge it became during the Monster tour), the end result did not add up to a complete presentation of the show: apart from the first take of “Drive,” one more song was left off (a not particularly strong version of “Love Is All Around,” the Troggs cover which the band had performed so well in acoustic guise during the promo-tour for Out Of Time), as well as the major part of the great chats in between songs.

So I continue to look for this show, happy to have some of the songs – especially “Drive,” – but ultimately left feeling incomplete. In a rare occurrence, the Internet has left me riddled as to how to pick a copy up without spending a huge chunk of money. R.E.M.’s liberal bootlegging policy approves of bootleg trading and downloading in an effort to curb illegal sales – they have a message board devoted to it – but this show is strangely absent.

Someday it will turn up. I’ll download it. I’ll love it. And until then, I continue to search.

Update

As I should have expected, this post was responded to within hours by two friends who could help me find this show. And find it I did.

It’s just as good as I remembered. A stunning version of “Fall on Me.” And a fantastic – and surprising – off-the-cuff version of “Radio Free Europe.”

Now that I have this in my possession, I guess I could probably scale back the R.E.M. fanboy-hood a notch.


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