R.E.M., Modest Mouse and The National at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre

yeah!

I don’t throw around the phrase “dream lineup” lightly, but as soon as I first heard about R.E.M.’s tour supporting Accelerate, I knew that it had the potential to be something special. As if they were specifically trying to reach the elusive “Ryan McNutt” demographic, they paired one of my absolute all-time favourite bands with two of my other favourites: an old standby and a gang of young upstarts. As great as it was to see some old friends and see Death Cab/Stars, let’s not kid ourselves – this was the impetus behind my packing up my backpack and jetting off to Toronto last weekend.

And it sure as hell didn’t disappoint.

The National

The National

Clearly, I wasn’t the only one excited by the full-package lineup – it’s rare to see a venue 3/4 full before the first opening act of two is finished. Still, looking around, I could only see a small handful of us keeners mouthing along to the words as the National took the stage and launched into Boxer standout “Start a War.” But by the end of the set, I suspect that the number of National fans in the crowed had grown exponentially.

In short, the live incarnation of the National is tight, intense, dramatic and flat-out stunning, even when playing at 6:30 in the evening at a venue likely much bigger than they’re typically suited to. Like on their albums, it’s drummer Bryan Devendorf that’s the star of the show, giving even more of a ranging backbeat to band’s moody-but-magnificant microdramas. Seizing the extra energy, singer Matt Berninger tore into songs like “Squalor Victoria” and the set-closing “Mr. November,” cracking his voice under the strain.

I was sitting next to a couple from New York State who must have been the biggest R.E.M. fans I’ve ever met, but I don’t know if they had ever heard anything by the National at all. And yet, they were positively glowing after the band’s set, and quickly joined the crowd-wide standing ovation. These kids are going places…

Setlist:

1. Start a War
2. Brainy
3. Baby, We’ll Be Fine
4. Slow Show
5. Mistaken for Strangers
6. Squalor Victoria
7. Racing Like a Pro
8. Apartment Story
9. Fake Empire
10. Mr. November

The National

The National

The National

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse

I’d heard so many horror stories about Modest Mouse live that I wasn’t really sure what to expect. They proved an interesting contrast to their predecessor: if the National are incredibly tight live, Modest Mouse are incredibly loose. The chords don’t stick, they hang; the notes don’t pounce, they linger. They’re pretty jammy, and when you combine that with Isaac Brock’s “distinctive” voice, it became clear that they weren’t exactly looking to win over the non-converted in the same way that the National did.

As a fan, though, it came across pretty damn good. Having never seen the band prior, I still got the sense that adding Johnny Marr as a second guitarist has helped the band dramatically live; he’s one heck of a rhythm player. The setlist was pretty broad with tracks from nearly every one of the band’s major records, though it was obviously “Float On” that managed the biggest crowd reaction. Brock sounded solid. But fun though they were, they felt somewhat off sandwiched between two bands that sounded like they had ambition in their wings.

Setlist:

1. Satin in a Coffin
2. Invisible
3. Dashboard
4. Here It Comes
5. Education
6. Truckers Atlas
7. Wild Pack of Family Dogs
8. Paper Thin Walls
7. King Rat
8. The Good Times Are Killing Me
9. We’ve Got Everything
10. Float On

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse

Modest Mouse

R.E.M.

REM

R.E.M. opened their show with “These Days.” The wonderful, electric “These Days,” perhaps my favourite track from my favourite R.E.M. record, Lifes Rich Pageant. At that point, they could have played the entirety of Around the Sun and I might have gone home happy.

Okay, that’s not exactly true; nor was this a perfect R.E.M. show even by objective standards. Though I could easily nitpick the band’s set list on account of “they didn’t play my favourite song X,” it suffered from some serious pacing issues: a lack of a major hit song in its second act to get the crowd going and inexplicably playing the maudlin “Final Straw” and “Until the Day is Done” back-to-back, their slow dragginess also rendering the cool acoustic version of “Let Me In” that followed part of the rut. This – plus the fact that they played so much of Accelerate – might explain why the show got some fairly negative reviews in the media over the past few days.

Well, fuck that: not only is Accelerate a great showcase for R.E.M. 2008, but they surrounded it with a grouping of songs that found a perfect balance between obscure fan favourites (some Reckoning love with “Second Guessing” and “7 Chinese Bros,” plus the tour debut of “So Fast, So Numb”) and big hit singles, which the band somehow manages to breathe life into after years of playing them nightly. It was perhaps the band’s energy that impressed me the most. Sure, Peter Buck looks a little older these days, and Mike Mills and Michael Stipe ain’t no spring chickens either, but you’d hardly think they were a day over 25 the way they attacked each song. Stipe in particular had no qualms about bouncing, gyrating and sweating out over every syllable, always willing to strike a pose for his fans with cameras (and we thank him for it).

Highlights: following “These Days” with “Horse to Water,” my favourite Accelerate track; hearing “Ignoreland,” which had never been played live before this tour; “Bad Day,” the best-of single that you wouldn’t think would be a highlight, but which was a huge winner with the crowd; getting to see 1980s guitar icons Buck and Marr on stage together playing “Fall on Me; and Stipe’s joyous goofing on Elvis during “Man on the Moon.”

Two hours later, it was all over – after over a decade as a devoted fan, I had finally seen R.E.M. live and in-person. Did it live up to expectations? You bet. Bring on Radiohead in August…

Setlist

1. These Days
2. Horse to Water
3. What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
4. Drive
5. Man-Sized Wreath
6. So Fast, So Numb
7. Ignoreland
8. Accelerate
9. 7 Chinese Bros.
10. Hollow Man
11. Bad Day
12. Houston
13. Electrolite
14. Living Well Is the Best Revenge
15. The One I Love
16. Final Straw
17. Until The Day Is Done
18. Let Me In
19. Begin The Begin
20. Animal
21. Orange Crush
22. I’m Gonna DJ

23. Supernatural Superserious
24. Losing My Religion
25. Second Guessing
26. Fall On Me
27. Man On The Moon

REM

REM

REM

REM

REM

REM

REM

#remtoronto

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4 responses to “R.E.M., Modest Mouse and The National at Toronto’s Molson Ampitheatre

  1. Great write-up! It was a fantastic line-up (I didn’t know much about Modest Mouse and hadn’t heard of The National but thoroughly, thoroughly enjoyed them) and thought my faves REM were pretty darned terrific too.

    Cheers!
    Connie

  2. Greatest. Show. Ever.

    Yeah it totally kicked ass, as amazing as Modest Mouse and R.E.M. were, I was most impressed with The National that day. They totally rocked the house, and I hope, for the sake of great music everywhere, that they sold a few CDs that faithful day, because, yeah, they kicked ass. “Fake Empire” may have been the best single song that I’ve ever seen live.

  3. Pingback: …in which McNutt is floored by Neil Young + Wilco live in Halifax « McNutt Against the Music·

  4. Pingback: …in which McNutt remembers R.E.M. « McNutt Against the Music·

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