R.E.M. – 1983-07-09, Toronto, Canada

Recorded way back in the long long ago, before the days of telephones and candygrams, when the Walter Mondale candidacy was but a gleam in America’s eyes and Toronto had, essentially, the exact same subway system that it does today. Between Murmur and Reckoning, when random songs off of the debut EP are the big crowd requests.

This is a live album, but it’s all kinds of awesome. Firstly, it’s recorded at a Carlton Street dive bar called Larry’s Hideaway, that a brief interweb search reveals to be “truly the filthiest, most degrading bar I’ve ever ventured into” or a rauncy by-the-hour hotel that was full of crack heads and prostitutes” and “a pretty scary place with people sprawled all over the floors in varying states of intoxication and hallucination.” Or an article about it titled “The biggest shit hole in the city” in The Eyeopener that’s worth reading just for the misplaced nostalgia you’ll feel towards a life you never lived. So right there you’ve got a good live album.

Secondly and most importantly (that’s why it’s in the middle) is the fact that these songs are fucking mint. Punk rock? Not even by 80s standard, but really fucking weird and simultaneously really fucking awesome? I fucking think so. It’s the part where the words are ALL inscrutable yet vaguely meaningful all the time. Then the part where almost every single melody is fantastic. Then there’s the wonderful aesthetic that you know and love – chiming, jangly guitar, straight-up bass, solid drums, talented singer. And the sound here, for a boot leg, is pretty goshdarned nice! It drops out a few times and Peter Buck isn’t the most talented backup singer, but shit, this is a bunch of 21 year-olds! They had no business being this good, but they totally had business turning into a bunch of millionaires. “Catapult” and “Pilgrimage” would be great, current songs today just like they were great, current songs in the early 80s.

It’s cute hearing a band in that early stage where nearly everything gets played – here they play 4 of the 5 Chronic Town songs, 4 non-album covers, 10 of the 12 Murmur songs, and 4 off of the “new” Reckoning, which the crowd don’t give a shit about and the band play a bit lacklusterly.

For the record (because I always feel the need to comment on such), the crowd interaction is hostile enough to be pleasant, but not truly adversarial or anything. The crowd really wants them to play “Shaking Through” for some reason, and they don’t, and someone yells at them to play a song for Joe Santos, so Stipey obliges by dedicating “Laughing” to him, and they mock a guy wearing sunglasses indoors. Mostly, this just sounds like one of the best shows in the 80s to ever attend. Also, Michael Stipe at 21 looked a lot like an unbespectacled me at like 24. Also, I spend a lot of time commenting on Michael Stipe’s appearance. But in a positive, analytical sense, so I think it’s acceptable.

9 / 10

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