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Music

Watch a full R.E.M. live performance from 1985

@TylerGolsen

1985 was a difficult time for R.E.M. Having spent the first few months of the year recording Fables of the Reconstruction in England, the band were homesick and unhappy with the process. As a result, the recordings became tense as the band increased their desire to return home. For a band that had always seemed to transcend their southern roots, Fables was the first time that R.E.M. were consciously leaning into themes of old time

Americana.

With songs like ‘Driver 8’ and ‘Green Grow the Rushes’, R.E.M. invoked the railways, sprawling fields, and rural backwater areas that made their home state of Georgia so unique among America’s vast landscapes. Fables was noticeable darker and less playful than the band’s first two albums, kicking off with the chromatic and slightly off-putting ‘Feeling Gravitys Pull’. While jangle-pop had always been essential to R.E.M.’s signature sound, darker folk elements began to take over songs like ‘Maps and Legends’ and ‘Old Man Kensey’.

Attitudes began to pick up once the band hit the road to support the album. “That’s the best part of being in a band: getting to play live,” bassist Mike Mills explained in an MTV interview for the promotion of the band’s follow up, Lifes Rich Pageant. “And it’s what we do real well. I think the main cornerstone of our success now is that we did go out and play anywhere and everywhere we could.”

That included flying out to Germany to record a concert for the music television programme Rockpalast. With three albums of material to fill out their show, R.E.M. were no longer reliant on the Velvet Underground covers to pad their runtime. That doesn’t stop the band from taking on some other artists, most notably their cover of Aerosmith’s ‘Toys in the Attic’, which Buck claimed was “always fun to play live” in the liner notes for the compilation Dead Letter Office.

Overall, the show is a fascinating snapshot of R.E.M. in a period of transition. Michael Stipe is becoming more and more comfortable in his role as a frontman, even if he’s not engaging with the audience as much as he would in the years to come. This is still a young, hungry band looking to pack as much energy and enthusiasm into their live show as possible, and it’s clear that R.E.M. are already priming themselves for much bigger stages to come.

Check out the live performance from 1985 down below.