We are a week into this final leg of the 2008 tour and what a week it has been–R.E.M. played Dallas, the first time in Texas since the SXSW show at Stubbs that in a sense kicked off the year’s travels, then on to New Orleans where the band finally got to play Voodoo Fest, enjoy the city and see friends from near and far, and then down to Bogota for the band’s first-ever visit to Colombia and a roaring start to the long-awaited tour of South America. It is an interesting time in the world to be traveling and doing shows right about now, but we sure enjoyed this first bit and look forward to a fun few weeks ending in Mexico City November 18th. There are stresses and rewards aplenty.
The band has been to South America twice before: in 1992 to visit a Nature Conservancy project in Paraguay, and the short “tour” in the winter of 2001, when R.E.M. played Rock in Rio, then another show in Buenos Aires. Each time we visit, I am struck by the differences in the cities, the kindness of the people and the overall feelings of simultaneous exhaustion and excitement– this time has started out to be no exception. Bogota is one of those places I had pictured in my mind but visiting there, even for a couple of days, was a complete revelation. Our hotel was exquisite, in an old residence that had been a hotel for several decades. We were taken to some restaurants the equal of any in the world, yet the context was a sprawling, chaotic, swirling city with a major traffic problem–they don’t seem to be able to build enough or wide enough roads, and going even a short distance can take a long time. I can’t remember ever being quite so security-conscious, but overall it felt like any other big bustling city. The show was indoors in an old arena for some sport they must play on a concrete floor–a real rocking if rustic vibe of a place. The band played a ferocious set from the gitgo, with “Living Well” into “I Took Your Name” into “Kenneth” setting a tone for the night and the crowd that never let up. The surprise in the encore was “Everybody Hurts,” not played since 2005 and sounding as soulful as ever, even with the five-piece arrangement. We all agreed it was the loudest crowd of the tour, although this one had an advantage over, say Milan or Madrid, as instead of the night air for the noise to dissipate into, a metal roof shrilled the sound back into the arena making for a real cacophony all show long. I think our crew earned their keep getting that one up and running and safe (oh, and the generator went off for a minute momentarily making the light show a little dark– those things can happen, and it all worked out fine.) Definitely a night to remember and after the rocking Voodoo set in New Orleans, that makes 2 in a row– 60-some shows in and the band seem to just be rounding into the best possible form in time for this last 10 shows . . . starting Saturday night in Buenos Aires. Today, long flight; tomorrow, Day Off in Buenos Aires.
In other news, I hear there’s an election back home in a few days. We will be in Santiago following along on the internet the best we can.
p.s. the MURMUR re-issue coming out in about 4 weeks is just outstanding– Don and Mitch have been involved in it a lot, and the art/notes are well worth the effort– hard to believe 25 years . . . wow!