REM/Modest Mouse/National | 06.13

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Words & Images by: Andrew Bruss

R.E.M./Modest Mouse/The National
06.13.08 :: Comcast Center :: Mansfield, MA


Michael Stipe – R.E.M. :: 06.13 :: Mansfield, MA
R.E.M., Modest Mouse and The National comprise one of this summer’s most unique and anticipated tours. Swinging through Massachusetts, the three-pronged attack gave fans a hefty dose of what alternative rock has to offer, and on a multi-generational platform to boot.

The National, led by frontman Matt Berninger, started the night while the sun still hung the sky, playing to a quarter-full amphitheatre filled with folks who had no idea who they were. They opened their set with “Start A War,” a tune off 2007’s The Boxer, an album that’s earned them a great deal of the attention and recognition they deserve. The National’s performance consisted of a handful of permanent members, but they had up to nine people onstage with them at different points. Their sound is rich and full, and, at times, brought to mind Arcade Fire. With so many people playing so many different instruments, the musical layers they created had a wall-of-sound quality. Throughout the 40-minute set, they blasted tracks primarily off their recent release but with notable exception of set closer “Mr. November,” the last track on 2005’s Alligator.

Modest Mouse followed with a set full of Johnny Marr‘s catchy pop licks, and the music of Isaac Brock‘s seemingly disturbed mind. Brock, having led the band for years prior to having Marr join the group, wrote practically everything the band performed, but you could tell he’s had to sacrifice some of the power in the group’s dynamic in order to pull in the formers Smith’s guitarist. The group had two drummers, two bassists and two guitarists (Brock and Marr). They opened with “Satin In A Coffin” off of 2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, and followed up with “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine.”

Isaac Brock – Modest Mouse :: 06.13 :: Mansfield, MA
With Brock’s harsh, pain stricken howl and the music’s often-creepy undertone, there’s not much this group has in common with the feel-good vibes of The Grateful Dead. However, the joint percussion efforts from Joe Plummer and founding member Jeremiah Green instantly brought to mind the famed Rhythm Devils-dynamics of the Dead’s Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann.

After 45 minutes of Brock’s distorted mayhem, Modest Mouse closed with a cut from 2007’s We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank called “Dashboard,” a tune which gave Mouse listeners their first taste of what Brock’s doomy lyrics would bring to Marr’s Brit-pop riffs. They didn’t exactly take a bow in the traditional sense but they called it quits as the sun began to set.

By the time R.E.M. took the stage, the undersold but energetic crowd was ready to rock along to what many had hoped would be a set chock full of hits that span the last two decades. Plenty of folks may have been disappointed by the heavy emphasis placed on their new album, Accelerate, and the neglect of their back catalog, but 25 years after releasing their first album, you can’t blame a band for being stoked about their new tunes. They opened with their new album’s lead-off track, “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” and worked deeper into the set with “What’s The Frequency Kenneth” and “Circus Envy.”

Michael Stipe – R.E.M. :: 06.13 :: Mansfield, MA
Michael Stipe, the group’s founder and frontman, shook and shimmied as he slithered around his microphone, making the musical performance that much more visual. Although Peter Buck (guitar) and Mike Mills (bass, vocals) kept to their respective sides of the stage, the inter-band communication was as on par as could be. Mills’ bass playing seemed influenced by The Who‘s John Entwistle, as he plucked out rhythmic-yet-thumpy basslines that gave Buck the foundation for his glowing guitar licks. All the while, Stipe worked the crowd, telling stories about his experiences at the venue, the history behind each song and by showing a general interest in engaging the people who paid money to see R.E.M.

As the group moved through newer tunes like “Man-Sized Wreath,” “Hollow Man” and “Houston,” they still made an effort to give folks something to chew on by indulging them in R.E.M. classics like “Cuyahoga,” “Ignoreland” and “The One I Love.” The set reached its climax with the 1-2-3 punch of “Bad Day,” “Orange Crush” and “I’m Gonna DJ” as the end the main set. They returned to perform “Supernatural Superserious” before closing the encore with their smash hit “Losing My Religion.” Much to the delight of the audience, they returned for a second encore, accompanied by Johnny Marr, to play “Fall On Me,” “Pretty Persuasion” and the coup de grace, “Man On The Moon.”

R.E.M. performed what was far from a greatest hits set. Fan favorites like “E-Bow The Letter,” “Everybody Hurts” “All The Way To Reno” and “The Great Beyond,” did not make the cut, and in their place were a handful of unfamiliar tunes. For a band with a hefty discography like R.E.M., any live show is always a balance of playing their new material while keeping the crowd happy with familiar fare. Although the setlist may have been a little off-balance, they did a pretty good job of serving this need. And with the unique inclusion of The National and Modest Mouse on the bill, it’s fair to say that everyone in attendance got exposed to something they may find themselves singing along to farther down the road.

Check out JamBase’s exclusive video interview with The National on JamBaseTV

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