R.E.M., Modest Mouse, and The National @ the Hollywood Bowl

My favorite perk, of the few that exist, to living in Los Angeles is that I can go to shows at the Hollywood Bowl. The Bowl is great; not only is the sound amazing, meaning that there’s not a bad seat in the house, but you can bring a cooler in as long as you don’t obstruct the aisle. And, usually, that cooler can contain all manner of beery goodness.

This was not the case when I went to see R.E.M. at the Hollywood Bowl on May 29th, however. Not that I blame the band (or any of the members of The National or Modest Mouse), but I was highly offended that my fine cans of Guinness were turned away at the door because the promoters wanted me to pay 7 bucks for fucking Coors Light. Seriously, there was a guy repping Coors Light there barking out to people like a carnie (I mean no offense to carnies by comparing them to Coors Light people) about how we shouldn’t buy that dirty Mexican Dos Equis but rather, we should drown our dignity in the frothy nothing that is the so-called Silver Bullet.

But this is a concert review, not a beer review. The upshot is, I pulled people out of the beer line and gave them my beer for free, thus firmly sticking it to the man.

So The National opened the show with “Start A War,” which struck me as an odd number to open with at first but, as the song washed over me and they built it up to a lovely crescendo, I knew I was in for some serious awesome from Matt Berninger and company.  You’ll forgive me for not remembering anyone’s exact set-list; I’d pounded 2 Guinness before dinner so as to at least enjoy one good beer before going into the show. I distinctly remember The National playing pretty much every song I wanted to hear from them, including the stellar cuts from Alligator “Abel” and the show-closing “Mr. November.” Seeing Berninger completely lose his shit while screaming, “My mind’s not right” on “Abel” was stirring stuff. You could tell the people who’d never heard anything but Boxer because they were completely blown out of the water by the yelling on “Abel,” and the chorus of “Mr. November,” (one of my all-time favorite choruses): “I won’t fuck us over/ I’m Mr. November/ I’m Mr. November/ I won’t fuck us over.”

Next it was time for Modest Mouse. I’d heard stories, most of them negative, about the live Modest Mouse experience. Mostly, it sounded like my pal Tim and I were in for a viewing of Isaac Brock getting drunk and possibly hurting himself on stage.

I’m very happy to say that none of that happened, however. Brock came out with a banjo, Modest Mouse kicked into “Satin in a Coffin,” and the band that has spent the longest time growing on me (I fucking hated them the first time  I heard them) showed their chops as one very tight instrumental unit (with 2 drummers!). I had spent the weeks leading up to this show really digging into We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and I’d really come around to that record, but they didn’t dip to much into their latest release. They only played “Dashboard,” as expected, and “Fire It Up,” both of which sounded great, but where the fuck was “Missed the Boat,” or “Little Motel,” or “Spitting Venom”? Oh well. Still, Modest Mouse was great live and I’m sorry that everyone else on the interwub (thank you Jeffrey Rowland) has had bad Modest Mouse live experiences.

Now I’ve seen R.E.M. before and they were amazing. I spent the days ahead of the show looking up their set lists from the previous two nights of the tour (The Hollywood Bowl, as Michael Stipe reminded us often during their set, was only the 3rd stop of their tour). There were expected things – they typically opened with “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” off of Accelerate. No surprises there. So when the walked out on stage at the Bowl and launched right into “Pretty Persuasion,”… wait. What? That’s right, they started off with my favorite track off of Reckoning. It was amazing. “Living Well” followed it, but still: way to throw a curve ball, R.E.M. And they continued to do so all night, busting out old gems like “Sitting Still” and “Fall On Me,” as well as working up new versions of other tracks like “Let Me In,” and “I’ve Been High,” that were very compelling in their new formats, especially “Let Me In,” which was a stripped-down acoustic affair. They played nearly every song I wanted to hear (no “Nightswimming”) and were on stage for more than 2 hours. The stuff from Accelerate sounded great and loud and fun and they looked like they were having a blast. Highlights were definitely “Fall On Me,” “Hollow Man,” “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” “Let Me In,” and show closer “Man on the Moon.” R.E.M., even when they make a mediocre album, turns in an incredible live performance and it’s perfectly suited to a venue like the Hollywood Bowl. The fact that Accelerate was a pretty good album is icing on the cake and the experience of these three great bands all in one evening (for 20 bucks!) has mostly made me forget the fact that I couldn’t take my beer in. Mostly.

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