Art Factory Hostel Blog

REM in Buenos Aires

“Wow. Argentina has some beautiful people,” Michael Stipe purred into the microphone after touring the front lines of the packed-in-tight crowd — if you’d raised your hands in salute to the band, there was little chance you’d be able to put them down again. The mostly young fans couldn’t keep their hands off him, rubbing his head, patting his shoulder, calling his name.
This show at Personal Fest 2008 in Buenos Aires marks the 10th time I’ve seen REM over the years. Since Bill Berry exited, though, I’ve basically ignored their new music. Still, I couldn’t resist seeing them in my new home for less than I would’ve paid just about anywhere. I’ve seen the band play better — I’ve certainly see them play faster — but I’ve never seen the crowd love them more, or seen the band give so much love back. If there were a downside to riding such gigantic waves of adulation, it was not being able to hear the band over the accolades and the sing-a-longs.

Situated as I was over on the heaving, sweating and frenetic left side of the stage, when the band began playing their biggest hit, Losing My Religion, I couldn’t hear Stipe at all over the crowd behind me who were shouting the lyrics at the top of their lungs. At first it pissed me off; then I decided to just let it go and enjoy the ride.

On the other hand, during the slower, quiet songs, the crowd gave the band the needed space. During an exquisitely performed “Everybody Hurts,” you could have heard someone crying in that huge, almost completely silent crowd.

Similarly, the riskily arranged acoustic version of “Let Me In,” Stipe’s anguished plea for access to Kurt Cobain, captivated most. Stipe sang the song with his back to the crowd, near the rest of the band, all huddled in a circle, strumming along. He painfully slid up to his notes, as if wrenching personal grief up and out of himself by the hair on his head.

After the show, as the cooler wind dried the sweat of our bodies, the crowds spilled out onto Avenida del Libertador, and filled them with laughing, smiling people. It was one of the most intense live shows I’ve ever experienced, despite the fact that it was one of the more poorly mixed festival shows I’ve ever heard. But it was my favorite band, and BA made it special.

Just before the encore, Stipe wrote these words on a post-it, visible via video projection:

Aguante Argentina! Quieren eschuchar más?

The crowd erupted with its biggest cheer yet after the first sentence, which basically combines the meanings of support/cheer on/laud in one word. (Thanks, José, for the translation insight.) They cheered only a little less loudly after the second. A great moment in a show jam-full of them.

For even more cell-phone videos from the BA REM show, go here. Also check out photos on flickr tagged with rembuenos. The band encouraged sharing of photos and videos, bless ‘em.

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