Two Very Early Concert Films of R.E.M., Live in ‘81 and ‘82

There are always those bands that you’d wish you’d seen live—bands that seem like they’ll go on for­ev­er (maybe so long you wish they’d quit already). But then you nev­er get around to it, and, Bam!, one day the chance is lost. One of those bands for me is R.E.M., the only U.S. band in my book whose ear­ly work stood up to almost every­thing The Smiths put out. Since I was such a young lad when I first heard them cir­ca-Doc­u­ment, it wasn’t easy for me to get out to con­certs. And by the time I was old enough, they’d moved on some from their ear­ly jan­gle and stomp, garage-rock, post-punk sound, and I’d moved on to oth­er favorites. That’s a shame, in hind­sight, but now thanks to the heav­en­ly mag­ic (or dev­il­ry) of YouTube, I can (and do) spend hours catch­ing up on con­cert film of bands like R.E.M. that I was born too late to see live in their prime.

Whether or not you had the priv­i­lege of see­ing Michael Stipe and com­pa­ny in per­son, there’s lit­tle chance that you were at the show above (if so, speak up!). It’s prob­a­bly one of their first, at the 688 Club in Atlanta, open­ing for Tex-Mex “Nue­vo wavo” gui­tarist, Joe “King” Car­ras­co.

This gig took place on either Feb­ru­ary 2oth or 21st, 1981, a full eigh­teen months before their debut release, the EP Chron­ic Town. There are a few tunes here that nev­er resur­faced in lat­er record­ings (“Nar­ra­tor,” “Dan­ger­ous Times”) and a cou­ple that became clas­sics (“Gar­den­ing at Night,” “Radio Free Europe”). The film opens with them in the midst of cov­er­ing the Son­ny West-penned 1950’s clas­sic “Rave On” (one of Bud­dy Holly’s last hits). And of course it makes per­fect sense that they would owe a debt to this sound, but they trans­formed it so com­plete­ly in their orig­i­nal song­writ­ing that it isn’t always evi­dent. They pull it off with panache.

The whole gig is a tes­ta­ment to what a togeth­er band they were even at this ear­ly stage. It’s all there—Stipe’s vocal quirks and full-body dance attacks, Mike Mills’ bounc­ing bass lines and angel­ic vocal har­monies, Peter Buck’s right-hand­ed Rick­en­backer arpeg­gios (and dap­per vest), and drum­mer Bill Berry’s ever-reli­able back­beat. Nev­er known as over­ly tech­ni­cal musi­cians (an over­rat­ed qual­i­ty in rock, in my opin­ion), what R.E.M. may have lacked in vir­tu­os­i­ty, they made up for in per­son­al­i­ty. Anoth­er com­plete con­cert film below, from Octo­ber 10th, 1982, shows them on a high, two months after Chron­ic Town’s release. Filmed at the Raleigh Under­ground, this gig includ­ed a num­ber of songs that would appear on their first full-length, the moody, con­fi­dent, and time­less Mur­mur.

via Slic­ing Up Eye­balls

Relat­ed Con­tent

R.E.M.’s Final Live Moments in Mex­i­co (and a Vin­tage Ear­ly Con­cert)

R.E.M.’s “Los­ing My Reli­gion” Reworked from Minor to Major Scale

Live in Rome, 1980: The Talk­ing Heads Con­cert Film You Haven’t Seen

Josh Jones is a writer, edi­tor, and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him @jdmagness

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Comments (6)
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  • anazgnos says:

    >“It’s prob­a­bly one of their first, at the 688 Club in Atlanta”

    Some­where around their 45th show, and their 6th or 7th vis­it to that par­tic­u­lar venue.

  • Josh Jones says:


  • Steve says:

    I saw them in 1983 when they opened for The Police. I actu­al­ly enjoyed them more than the Police. I saw them again in a small club in West Hart­ford in the sum­mer of 85. Incred­i­ble!

  • Joe says:

    Ooh. Look­ing for­ward to this. Nar­ra­tor did see offi­cial REM-relat­ed release — it was the A‑side of the first Hin­du Love Gods 45, the A‑side of which was a cov­er of the Easy­beats’ Gonna Have A Good Time Tonight. (Info here:

  • Casper Fredrickson says:

    Michael and I worked togeth­er as cooks at a restau­rant called Le Chateau in the ear­ly 80s. I was work­ing on my MFA at the time and had seen Michael around the art build­ing. He was a super nice guy, but always qui­et and reserved. I knew Pete and the Bills from around town. The crew from the restu­rant would go down to the bar, Tyrone’s, and watch the band after work. There was a lot of good music in Athens at that time.

  • Gordon G says:

    Great ener­gy and mix in this show. Michael seems a lit­tle ner­vous, though. Act­ing too cool for school and singing put of tune most of the time. A pat­tern that played out through­out the ensu­ing stages of their fame, i.e. not quite being com­fort­able when ini­tial­ly hit­ting that next lev­el.

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