I’ve been listening to a lot of REM lately. Several of the blogs I follow have featured them recently (see here for Aphoristical‘s updated list of R.E.M Albums: Ranked from Worst to Best; and here and here for song features from badfinger20(Max). And so the other night I stumbled on this gem on YouTube – R.E.M.’s first national TV appearance on Letterman’s show on Oct. 6, 1983.
What a joy to watch this performance! In less than 10 years, R.E.M will be one of the biggest bands in the world, but here they are, just 4 guys from Athens, GA trying to make it. Peter Buck and Mike Mills jumping and bouncing all over the stage playing Radio Free Europe, while Michael Stipe anchors the whole song stationary, hanging on the mic, “murmuring” the lyrics, although you sense he could bound off the stage if he lets go.
In those days Letterman would often give his musical guest two songs, and so after the commercial break, they play a song the band says is so new it doesn’t have a title – and its So. Central Rain.
I found it interesting that the between song chatter with Letterman was handled by Buck and Mills – Stipe, the lead singer, is off to the side , sitting on the drum riser, so uncharacteristic of a lead singer who is usually the band’s spokesperson. I recall reading somewhere that Stipe said he viewed his voice as just another instrument in the band, and this fits with the idea that he’s just another bandmember.
I didn’t get into R.E.M. until Document in 1987, and was barely aware of them during my college years (82-86). On the other hand, I watched Letterman religiously during college so I’m not sure why I missed this. Although on reflection that was more in my junior/senior year, so this performance would have been earlier. What I can say is that if I had caught this performance, I am willing to bet I would have become a fan much earlier!
Enjoy the performance!