Alt-rock luminaries R.E.M. brought their special brand of stylish bookworm cool to Temple University’s Liacouras Center Oct. 1. The show was spectacular in nearly every regard. The performance was tight. The sound was excellent. Frontman Michael Stipe filled the room with his offbeat and infectious enthusiasm.
There was one glaring omission on the band’s part, however. The set list completely ignored every song from their 1994 masterpiece Monster. That’s right, R.E.M. actually played an entire concert with no “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?,” no “Bang and Blame” and no “Star 69.”
Of course, when dealing with a catalog of music that spans nearly 20 years, there will be omitted songs. But such a glaring omission is difficult to gloss over as a simple matter of set list expediency.
Without a new album, and a greatest hits collection due in later in the year, the R.E.M. ’03 tour seems like the perfect opportunity to remind fans by having fun with old material before moving on. The songs from Monster represent an important place in the history of the band. Created during a time when R.E.M. was arguably the most important band in the world, Monster was their response to the critics who thought that the quirky little four-piece from Athens could never carry their sound over to such a large audience.
Monster proved that not only could they cross over from underground musical messiahs to mainstream rock uber-heros, they could do so with more tunes and talent than any other band.
R.E.M. is a band clearly past the point of having to win over new fans while on tour, so why not indulge in the little in-jokes of the past? This is clearly a rather blinded and focused critique of an otherwise flawless performance. But certainly, if there was room on the tour bus for giant drawings of the band member’s faces, certainly there was enough room in the set list for “Crush with Eyeliner.”
Robert James Algeo can be reached at email@example.com.