Just before the band was to grow to a Monster size, REM toured their album Green. They were still serving their apprenticeship, but they were set to become one of the most unusual global stars this side of Nirvana. The band still had drummer Bill Berry and Michael Stipe still had hair.
The main focus is Michael Stipe – the footage is concentrated on him 90% of the time. The attitude and energy of the band come from him. The rest of the members are serviceable, but everything memorable from the performance comes from Stipe.
Directed by Jim McKay and Stipe, this is much more artistic than your average performance film. A range of grainy film stocks and looks – both black and white and (muted) colour. Well suited to the VHS format that it was primarily distributed in – although it was released on DVD. The action was concentrated solely on the performance of the band with lots of low tech visual flourishes. It’s nevertheless inventive visual layering with a peppering of slowed down and sped up footage.
The band are a touch distant. It seemed they were not ready to completely reveal themselves to the world just yet.
The songs are the main part of the script – and they are rarely disappointing. It’s a no-nonsense run through the best of what they had at this stage of their career.
This is for the early fans who were presumably as white and male as the band.
Stipe could not be more sincere and earnest. The band are set for a room-filling performance, but determined to do it differently from everyone else. This is especially evident in Stipe with his abstract banter, spoken word and a cappella singing between songs.
The music is excellent although this viewer was longing for a bit of variety by the one hour mark. Although you do get with You Are My Everything to signal a little bit of variety. The sound of the band is still set firmly in that early stage of the band. They had not yet grown tired of this sound and were to expand it later.
The camera angles carefully frame Stipe so that background images on the stage as seen as well. It’s a nice touch to include a design element that would have been experienced by the concertgoer.
The cameras are positioned to mostly look up at the band – elevating their status and making them seem bigger than they are – in a few years time the band were to get that big anyway.
The band don’t reveal their playfulness until right at the end when singing After Hours, but several times Stipe says the songs are especially for the audience and the film seems to be as well. A note from the band at a performance peak.