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REM   venue: Budokan  place: Tokyo date: March 16th (Wed)


I spent most of my teenage years studiously avoiding REM. They were the kind of band whose song titles you found scrawled on girls' pencil cases and those girls wouldn't go out with me so a connection was probably forged in my adolescent mind between whiny-voiced American alt-rock and sexual failure. Anyway, years went by and I got laid and my attitude softened until you find me here. Semi-willingly accompanying a friend to the Budokan to stand uncomfortably between two rows of seats upon which no one in the entire place has any intention of sitting, and hoping to God that they don't play too many songs off their new album. What was it called again? No, I can't remember either.

Peter Buck and Mike Mills are looking flabby and old, but Michael Stipe, in a razor-sharp suit and with a black strip painted across his face, is altogether more energetic and glam rock than he has any right to be at his age, and he gets away with it marvellously. Despite Stipe's efforts in injecting life into it, the new material is desiccated and insubstantial, and when they play "Orange Crush" I'm struck by the unexpectedly painful realisation that REM's best material is more than 15 years behind them.

It continues in this vein for the rest of the show, with old songs still ringing with the echoes of an immediacy and relevance that the band once had, and new stuff hanging limpid and devoid of... well, devoid of anything really. Songs like "Losing My Religion", which I hated with a passion when I was fourteen, are now happy memories and by the time they're back for an encore and I've managed to pass the acid test that is "Everybody Hurts" without scratching my eyes out, I'm ready to start screaming requests for "Shiny Happy People", which, inevitably, they stop short of taking me up on. As an exercise in nostalgia, tonight was tempered with the bittersweet lemon of their current naffness, but as an exorcism of some of the more frustrating memories of my adolescence I can at least thank REM for a job well done. - Ian Martin, Apr.17.05.

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