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R.E.M.
Roncalliplatz, Cologne, Germany, 12.05.01

"BigFreeOutdoorRawkShowExtravaganza"

It was a show that you just had to enjoy, despite the fact that the circumstances of the concert were less than perfect for a lot (if not most) of the people in the audience - 40,000 according to news agency Reuters, 70,000 according to news agency dpa or even 100,000 if you believe R.E.M.'s management. The reason for both things was the venue for this "BigFreeOutdoorRawkShowExtravaganza" (as R.E.M. officials dubbed the event). The Roncalliplatz in Cologne is a square next to the world-famous Catherdral, the Dom, but while the sunny weather was just about ideal for an open air gig and the sight quite impressive, it was simply too small for R.E.M. only full show in Europe.

The gig was billed as a show to raise awareness for a campain apparently titled "Against Violence In Schools", although I didn't quite get the connection. Very much like you would expect it from school, the show started right on time at 9.00 PM with The Great Beyond. From the start is was apparent that the show definitely was an amazing experience for the band and for those who arrived early and managed to get onto the Roncalliplatz itself, but all the others were confronted with the usual problems that come with huge open air shows: You could hardly see anything and the sound was so bad at first, you wouldn't believe it. A shame, because The Great Beyond is an excellent song, but it didn't sound too hot tonight. What's The Frequency Kenneth was next and only recently I noticed that it's quite funny that "a Ken" has joined the band since they wrote it (and yes, I know the song has nothing to do with everybody's favourite redhead).

So far the crowd was way into it, but then it became quickly apparent that many (if not most) only had come to the show because it was free and R.E.M. had promised to play some big hits. So people next to me were chatting all the way through "Reno" and even worse, discussed who's turn it was to get some more beer during Cuyahoga, thus almost drowning out the music. During Cuyahoga!!! Too bad really. But of course there's always the TV broadcast to relive the show again! Michael Stipe didn't say much throughout the evening and most of his comments seemed to deal with the audience (people on a hotel balcony next to the cathedral, people hanging from streetlights etc.) or the fantastic weather and the fact that the band had to come all the way to Germany to escape the rain. The next real treat came about half an hour into the show with Find The River. Easily my favourite song off Automatic... and a song I just cannot get enough of. Also the first song to feature some excellent harmony singing from the band, I believe. New single Imitations Of Life got the biggest cheer from the audience so far - no wonder, it had been on the radio in and around Cologne nonstop for the last week or so. Despite the weather they also did I'll Take The Rain. At My Most Beautiful was lovely as ever and the crowd just went NUTS when they started The One I Love, like all the older songs much faster than the original. "Life is faster now", they had explained in a ridiculously boring internet fan chat the day before the show, "that's why we play our songs faster, too".

Apart from Find The River the highlight of the show was Walk Unafraid, which - unlike the recorded version - seems to be split into two different parts now, the VERY slow and dramatic intro with just Ken Stringfellow (on loan from The Posies) and Minus-5-Mainman Scott McCaughey on keyboards and Michael singing and then the loud and MUCH faster second part when the full band kicks in. Great stuff. Peter Buck then grabbed his mandolin and the inevitable Losing My Religion - complete with singalong and all - managed to fire up the audience again as did the main set's closer Man On The Moon. The band returned for two encores, the always welcome So. Central Rain and an ultra fast rendition of It's The End Of The World As We Know It.

My final comment would be that the six of them seem to be much more of a real band now. In 1999 it seemed to be Michael, Peter, Mike plus backing band, now it felt as if there was the "R.E.M. Sextet" on stage. The fact that the three "new guys' played on the record really helped, I think. The problems with the sound at the beginning and some retards in the audience aside, a very memorable 95 minute show. A couple more surprises on the setlist probably wouldn't have hurt, but hey, I'm defiinitely not complaining. Any show with Find The River is a good show in my book anyways. The only thing that would have been even better still probably would have been an unplugged show INSIDE the cathedral...

Copyright © 2001 Carsten Wohlfeld e-mail address

You may also want to check out our R.E.M. articles/reviews: Bad Day EP, Collapse Into Now, Losing My Religion.

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