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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Thursday, February 24, 2005
    The missionary
     


    If Mike Mills could make the effort to get up off his sick bed to meet a commitment to playing before 8,000 people at the NEC, then as one of those paying customers I felt I should honour my side of the covenant, despite feeling heady with cold and anxious about travel-weather.

    But it has always been rewarding, watching REM, and so it was last night. It's rewarding for two reasons. First, it involves engaging with a series of songs-which-defined-your-life: over the past twenty years this band have offered us all a new language for love, loss, longing (consider how much everybody values Everybody Hurts) and have offered smaller miracles to each of their fans in elusive lyrics which somehow connect ('I'll be your albatross, / devil, dog, Jesus, God, / I don't wanna be Iggy Pop but if that's what it takes, hey...' - the wonderfully ridiculous lines of last night's opener, I Took Your Name.)

    The second reason watching REM is so rewarding is Michael Stipe. Though it meant we missed out on the visual show digitized on the screen above the singer's head, it was good to be upfront stage left to witness his energetic, quirky, generous, manic movements. He's a tremendous communicator, this self-effacing superstar, champion of love's fearlessness in the face of an awful, aweful world. He gravitates to the very edges of his stage, energetic to engage his audience. Politicised but not polemical, a poet of potential and abstract protest, Stipe is a twenty-first century missionary. His mission is one of the easiest tasks in the world - to persuade his audience to join him in celebrating his joyful vision.