All we wanted was the cocaine . . . (get your nose off the mirror, buddy) . . . the song “I love the cocaine/I love the cocaine,” Buckcherry’s “Lit Up.” Lay down the snowy rails and let the party train begin. Or just lay down that Angus Young riff and we’ll coast with you down the highway to hell. Just give us the COCAINE. Whatever. All we cared about was that fucking song, and we were fiending. But the little “show and dance” before the fix was, well, not bad— it was showy. And dancey.
These five tattooed L.A. glamazons at Madison Square Garden were an approximation of what you miss or missed of ’70s rock and roll— Humble Pie rockin’ the Fillmore, Rod Stewart before he started asking us if he was sexy, Keith and Mick pre”Miss You.” A swaggering, pucker-lipped, space-demon guitarist. A spastic and fey frontman branded with the anarchy symbol above his belly button, and he’s prancing around doing an embryonic version of the Running Man. His trusty guitarist sidekick, static, churning out a swampy groove. The nifty tricks. Guitarists picking each other’s guitars (which in tonight’s case resulted in feedback cacophony). And one trick I’d never seen before— during a break, the drummer tosses his stick to Pucker Lips, who catches it and tosses it back, and then it’s back to kickin’ ass. A pleasant whiff of rock’s gilded age, but we wanted the cocaine.
After “Dirty Mind,” which should have been titled “I-have-nothing- to-say-so-I’ll-stomp- on-this-wah-wah-pedal- while-the-singer- does-his Saturday Night Fever moves,” and a few songs with AC/DC power chords tweaked so they sounded like Foreigner’s “Hot Blooded,” it came: “This song’s about cocaine.” Arena-ready, with a drum-and-bass breakdown as singer Joshua Todd yelped, “CAN YOU FEEL IT CAN YOU FEEL IT TONIGHT/ARE YOU HIGH/ARE YOU FUCKIN’ HIGH,” “Lit Up” (now a fixture on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart for half a year) was an event on its own. Buckcherry milked the hit’s magic moment with “Come on, motherfuckers,” a call-and-(self)-response “Co-Caine!” chant, and lots of “Baby-baaaaaby.”
There was time for only one more after that. “Whadya wanna hear?” Todd grunted. “Lit Up!” we shouted. “We already played that one,” he shot back. Yeah, but we love the cocaine, we love the cocaine. Oh yeah . . . I heard Lenny Kravitz and Smash Mouth were pushing something later that evening, but I just said “No.” —Lorne Behrman
They Still Feel Fine
Each of R.E.M.’s masterpieces built an audience. More recently, Automatic for the People won enough MTV play to make them a college band again, amusing news to those of us who’d been borne into Generation Murmur almost 10 years earlier. The newer audience is more fickle: when Up, an uneven reinvention in the wake of drummer Bill Berry’s departure, earned almost no MTV play, it fell from the top 100 in only six weeks. You can’t blame Time Warner’s sagging stock price solely on Up‘s bad sales, but it’s likely that R.E.M. are now touring, after they said they would not, partly to succor the corporation that made them quite rich.
They’ve plotted their set lists this tour to please both audiences: most of the 25 songs at Jones Beach on Saturday were from the last four records, while the five pre-Automatic songs (“Fall on Me,” “The One I Love,” “Popsong 89,” “Losing My Religion,” and the closing “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”) dated back no farther than ’86, and were singles, not obscurities. The set wasn’t going to sate Generation Murmur, but R.E.M. abandoned that unending task long ago— and judging from shouted requests, Jones Beach would’ve preferred the missing “Everybody Hurts” to the missing “Wolves, Lower” anyway.
The days when Michael Stipe performed as though the SST Tribunal on Indie Rock was evaluating him are gone: funny and voluble, he talked about his dreams, hosting Henry Rollins, coveting his sister’s jewelry, and how flight attendants are “the first true performance artists.” Where he once posed like the hero of Sarah McLachlan’s “Building a Mystery”— which may as well have been written about him— he now shimmied like a lap dancer, stripped off his shirt, did a few steps of Riverdance, and gave out Courtney Love’s cell phone number. (One of these things is not true.) During their ascent, R.E.M. learned how to stage a show: the backlighting made for dramatic pictures on the large TV screens, the iconic electric signs hanging above were appropriately inscrutable, and the special guests— Patti Smith on
“E-Bow the Letter” and local hero Deni Bonet adding gorgeous violin to “Nightswimming”— were special.
A live energy, and the auxiliary talents of Scott McCaughey and Ken Stringfellow, both of Generation Murmur, on various instruments, solidified the electro-croon songs from Up. For most of the two hours, the show was tight, vivid, varied, ranging from garish to sentimental, with a clear focus on Mike Mills’s grand melodic skills. Sure, “Hope,” which Stipe did solo, on beginner-guitar, is a droning recasting of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” R.E.M. are so green, they even recycle melodies. —Rob Tannenbaum
Top Five CMJ Band Names
Or at least ones we never heard before.
1. Gangsta Bitch Barbie
2. Yanni DiFranco
3. Carter Administration
4. Neanderthal Spongecake
5. . . . And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead