I have many lovely memories of R.E.M. Not least, of course, my 2012 visit to Athens, Georgia and the self-led R.E.M. walking tour of the band’s home town, to such places as the 40 Watt Club, Weaver D’s and Wuxtry Records. 16 years before that, (and 27 years ago now!), I had another memorable R.E.M. experience. I went to the world premiere of the band’s film, Road Movie at the ABC Cinema in Edinburgh.
The Green world tour had exhausted the band and after albums Out of Time and Automatic for the People, R.E.M. disappeared for a few years. There were no tours. There was no extended press nor publicity and in those pre-internet times, fans held out hope for any gossip they could get their mitts on. When the band finally returned in 1994 with the single What’s the Frequency, Kenneth? and the album Monster, their world had changed. Friends of the band River Phoenix and Kurt Cobain had both died and far from following a trio of albums considered lush and instrumentally layered with production similar, they stripped everything back and produced the most ‘garage rock’ record in their catalogue.
The Monster World Tour
The subsequent world tour in ’95 was fraught with incident, the most harrowing of which was drummer Bill Berry’s brain haemorrhage in Switzerland. The band cancelled several shows including the Glasgow SECC show for which I had tickets. Far from convalescing, Bill was back on the drum stool six weeks later, and concerts were rearranged. Replacement tickets were hastily acquired for the Scottish show announced for Murrayfield in Edinburgh, later in the year – but that’s another story.
R.E.M. closed the tour at the Omni in Atlanta, Georgia over three successive nights, filming each for a film. The resulting footage became Road Movie; a companion piece to Tourfilm, the documentary of the Green tour. The ABC Theatre on Lothian Road was the Premiere venue and the film was part of the programme of the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Michael Stipe was due to introduce the screening that evening.
The Road Movie Premiere
Arriving to a note pinned to the door of the cinema announcing Stipe’s cancellation as stuck in transit dampened spirits a little, however undeterred we took our seats in the theatre packed to the gills with R.E.M. fans, soon to be rocked to its foundations.
The film itself, remains one of my favourite concert films. Entirely ‘glam’ in its approach, with eye-popping projections by James Herbert and Lance Bangs, among others. The set-list is a mixture of tracks from Monster and growling versions of live favourites such as The One I Love and Losing My Religion. For a group with an early-90s reputation for being pompous and po-faced, the film shows a band having fun and with a clear love for live music again. I remember watching the VHS time and time again, getting Peter Buck’s moves down just right. There exists a terrifying picture of me in rehearsal with the band that preceded troika; mid-air in a Peter Buck style jump in a terrible shirt and terrible hair. Blimey.
Like a hyperactive toddler on Fanta and Fruit Pastilles, I walked back to the car excited and desperate to see R.E.M. live once again. Little did I know it would be another 3 years before they’d appear in Scotland, this time at Stirling Castle. Still, I had my trusty VHS of Road Movie to tide me over until then.