VariousArtists

VariousArtists
Location
Ottawa, Canada
Birthday
December 15
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Greetings! I am a terminal music fan who will be writing about my life as a concertgoer from 1975 to the present. It’s about the music but also about the lives lived along with it. Many entries will feature a scan of the original ticket as well as a recollection of each gig as a whole experience rather than simply being a description of the performance. Therefore, this blog will be a mixture of memoir, concert review, music history, and philosophical musing. Concurrently, I will be writing about shows that I am seeing in the present. Thanks to Cublet for artwork assistance. **** I’m on Facebook (www.facebook.com/ mylifeinconcert) ... and have just launched a YouTube channel, VATV (www.youtube.com/mylifeinconcert). I also re/cross-post on my stand-alone blog (mylifeinconcert.wordpress.com). Non-OS members who wish to comment can do so over at that site. ***** mylifeinconcert@yahoo.ca

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JUNE 23, 2011 8:27AM

My Life – In Concert! 016.The (English) Beat/R.E.M., 1983

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016. End of the Party: The (English) Beat with R.E.M., Alumni Hall, UWO, London, Ontario, Canada, Tuesday April 12, 1983, $10.

English Beat and REM, Alumni Hall, London, Ontario, Canada,

As with the Gang of Four concert, I came away only with the end stub.  Luckily, that practice was quickly scrapped. 

In my memory-themed piece for the Boomtown Rats show, I pondered “In terms of the more review-centric pieces I am writing on contemporary shows, what am I leaving out now that I’d highlight later? What context and foreshadowing — invisible to me now — will become essential and evident as time passes?” This Beat/R.E.M. gig is a perfect specimen to examine through that lens.

To 2011 eyes, it is of course opening act R.E.M. that jumps out as significant whereas headliners The Beat or The English Beat as they were known over here are far more selectively remembered. At the time, R.E.M.  barely registered around these parts. I prided myself on being in-the-know about many upcoming groups but I had heard their name muttered slightly, at best.

When I attended this gig in 1983 with my pal Miss Bennies, it was a case of a top indie-pop/ska group who had gravitated heavily toward the pop element, here entertaining a near sold out crowd of not-too-jaded older alterna-folk and the more adventurous younger suburban pop pickers.

"I Confess," one of the singles from The (English) Beat's third and final album, Special Beat Service (1982).

Alumni Hall had come a long way from the anal retentiveness of that Elvis Costello concert back in 78. Id seen Joe Jackson put on an outstanding show here the previous fall, during which the more clued-in burghers of Alumni allowed people to actually accumulate in front of the stage.

In a bout of delayed progressive thinking, the Hall completely opened up its floor space for both this gig and a Stray Cats concert I had been at two weeks previous. (NOTE: That SC show along with a few others will get encapsulated reviews in no.29, the first of several omnibus entries coming down the line. For the period starting at this point and henceforth particularly 1983-92 I will be selective in the shows I will be writing full entries for. I simply saw too many to chronicle them all with stand-alone pieces and, frankly, there's not too much to say about some of them.) The open floor was a win-win situation all round as it allowed us to wander and mingle freely, just like we were used to doing in the bars and clubs, while the more raucous acts to play Alumni were now able to feed off of the energy of the unrestrained crowd, making for a more synergistic artist/audience experience.

Beat R.E.M. Tuesday April 12 1983 London Ontario Alumni Hall Program Cover variousartists 

Cover of the program for the concert (program scans by VA).

Opening act, and The Beat's I.R.S. Records labelmates, R.E.M. played on what turned out to be an historic week for them, with this show occuring on the day before the release of Murmur, their stone-classic full-length debut LP which had been completed just a few weeks earlier. Oh, how I wish I could regale you with tales of wandering in, seeing this unknown entity and being transformed into a believer on the spot. Oh, what prestige I could engender, what cool points I could acquire as I textually flaunted that for you all now.

REM Murmur 1983

R.E.M. Murmur (1983)

Except that it would be a total lie. My response to R.E.M. was a big neutral shrug. If I could think of any word to describe my reaction to them it wouldnt be good or bad but indifferent. They came off to me like one of many on a conveyer belt of ok-but-nothing-special college rock bands. Ive long wondered why, because that sure as hell wasnt my reaction when I heard their studio recordings, launching an obsession with this group that continues to this day, albeit in a muted form. These days, I hope for something terrific like Accelerate but more often than not deal with duds like Collapse Into Now and Around the World.

Shortly after this concert, wherein Miss Bennies and I judged R.E.M. to be unremarkable, I was listening to our local university station, CHRW, and this great tune with Byrds-y guitars came on in the middle of a set of songs. It stood out, grabbing my attention.  When the DJ came back to announce what hed just played, it turned out to be that meh band Id just seen, R.E.M. (Moral Kiosk to be exact).

R.E.M. performing "Radio Free Europe" on David Letterman, a half-year on from when I saw them opening for The Beat.

Huh? This didnt gel with what I'd heard at Alumni. "It must be the one good cut on the album," I reasoned. But then, in short order, I heard another from Murmur, then another, and another, each one instantly grabbing me without my knowing who it was until after.

????!

Why such a gulf separating how I reacted to what I'd heard live vs their recorded material?

I have a few probable theories. It could have been that there was a major disconnect between their live and studio sound at that time. I have read interviews with several band members discussing that when they went in to make Murmur in North Carolina, producers Mitch Easter and Don Dixon really pushed them into re-thinking themselves sonically and to not make the record a live document but, instead, a meticulous, nuanced studio creation. Band members felt that what resulted bore little resemblance to what they actually sounded like live.

When I read that, it logically accounted for my disconnect. That is until Murmur was reissued in 2008 with a live bonus disc, recorded at Larrys Hideaway in Toronto, three months after the Alumni show. While I havent heard the live recording in its entirety, I have sampled chunks of it and, frankly, it really doesnt sound significantly different to the finished album. Could their live sound have changed that much in just three months? Perhaps, but I somehow doubt it, particularly when considering Chronic Town, their debut EP, which sounds like a more off-the-cuff cousin to Murmur but, again, not a massive departure.

Could it be that my ears were not yet attuned to what they were doing? The retro '60s jangly thing was about to become a college rock cliché but at this moment in time it was a fresh sound. That newness aspect is possible. I could rattle off a list of artists who I didn
t immediately take to on first listen, or sub/genres I was resistant to at first but later came around to. But that too doesnt really work either as I loved bands such as Orange Juice from Scotland who had already starting exploring that McGuinn/Harrison chiming electric 12-string fetish.

Maybe it was down to their not being used to playing larger venues and stages, with the attendant insecurity coming out in the performance. But from what I have read, they were bursting with confidence and ambition so I doubt that a larger venue would have daunted them much.

Were they simply having an off-night? That makes for the most plausible reason. After all, it was the albums release date and there could very well have been some extra-celebrating going down, resulting in some comparatively shambling shows. Anyway, Ill never fully have the answer as I cant go back there and re-live it. All I know is that I was decidedly underwhelmed by my introduction to Buck, Berry, Mills & Stipe (I always thought that sounded like a law firm). Oh well, I guess I get to name-drop seeing an early performance, even if I didnt think much at the time.

High School Confidential.  Here, a hungover Peter Buck and Mike Mills bravely face preppy high school students asking lame questions, while promoting Murmur and trying not to heave their cookies.  Utterly surreal. This so reminds me of Rough Trade being interviewed on SCTV's satiric "Pre-Teen World." 

Headliners The Beat were on the road promoting their third and final album, the rather wan Special Beat Service. Decidedly sleeker and less ska-focussed than 1980's I Just Can't Stop It or 1981's Wha'ppen?, it was released in mid-1982, clearly aimed at their growing American audience just as their UK one was rapidly starting to shrink.

The Beat I Just Can't Stop It 1980 Wha'ppen? 1981 Special Beat Service 1982  

The Beat's I Just Can't Stop It (1980), Wha'ppen? (1981), and Special Beat Service (1982): an exercise in diminishing creative returns with each release.

If I register a neutral-to-negative reaction about R.E.M., I cant remember anything specific at all about The Beat other than recalling that I rather enjoyed the show. C'est tout! My friend Special Guests does have memories of The Beat's set, notably “jumping on the stage and then jumping back into the crowd when the bouncers started to come over. At the end of the gig, I helped a girl from school up onto the stage and then followed her. We were dancing in the middle of it and then noticed loads of people coming on, the stage becoming being full of people. I stood behind Dave Wakeling, looked down and saw (SG's friend) Sammy the Goose strumming Wakeling's guitar.”

I do remember feeling that this show was substantially more satisfying than when I had seen them eight months earlier at the debacle that was The Police Picnic II at CNE Stadium. And the sound was great too, Alumni being well-built for excellent acoustics. But nothing of note jumps out at me about the boys from Birmingham that night.

To look at the line-up retrospectively, though, is another thing as it instantly exemplifies a music community in transition.

Special Beat Service's "Save It For Later" at the 1983 US Festival.

The shift from the early '80s to the mid-and-later '80s had begun, with the headliners in the last throes of their pop life as a significant new aesthetic was beginning its ascent. While both acts were offspring of what punk had birthed in the mid-'70s, The Beat's ska-revivial-to-pop-group arc had peaked upon its US chart hit destination. The end was nigh.

British music had strongly pre-dominated over the previous few years in the alterna-world, over the years inching towards a lighter, glossier sound. Meanwhile, this gig's openers exemplified what was happening predominantly on this side of the Atlantic, with a return toward a more guitar/rock-based aesthetic. R.E.M., as with their UK counterparts The Smiths, put a tuneful, accessible and wholly irresistible spin on a re-engagement with guitar rock, Athens finest anticipating and synthesizing the catchiest qualities of two then-subliminal but soon-to-explode college rock streams of the time: harsh, rising Amerindie groups on one hand, such as Hüsker Dü and The Replacements, and then later Sonic Youth , Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies, and the alt-country/roots acts such as Rank and File, Lone Justice and Steve Earle on the other.

R.E.M., "South Central Rain," which later appeared on 1984's Reckoning. Here, they perform live in 1983 on ... I have no idea what's going on.  Man oh man: the 80s.

This gig is emblematic of an oceanic crossing of the slipstream's geographic centre. When I think of the 80s, most of what I listened to in the first half was largely British while most of what I listened to in the latter half was largely American (and, as the decade went along, increasingly Canadian). This evening's line-up, occurring at the very moment of The Beat's commencing twilight and R.E.M.'s inching ascent, captures a moment when one party was ending as another was beginning.

Beat R.E.M. Tuesday April 12 1983 London Ontario Alumni Hall Program inside variousartists 

Inside (above) and back (below) of the concert program.

Beat R.E.M. Tuesday April 12 1983 London Ontario Alumni Hall Program back variousartists 

A few months later, following their playing to a massive audience at the US Festival in California, The Beat were history, with the group's two front men, Wakeling and Ranking Roger, enjoying brief success with follow-up offshoot General Public.

Meanwhile, behind the scene Beat-sters David Steele and Andy Cox bid their time, eventually discovered vocalist Roland Gift, formed the Fine Young Cannibals, and began working towards the huge, delayed payoff that was the massive commercial and critical success of their sophomore release, 1989s The Raw and The Cooked. They never followed it, but their dissolution was their own choice.

Johnny Come Home 12 

Fine Young Cannibals stunning debut 45 12", "Johnny Come Home" (1985) with its video below.

As for R.E.M., I really dont need to tell you how things worked out for them (and they're coming up again in my series, down the line). By the time their sophomore effort Reckoning one of my favourite albums by the group appeared, I was addicted, following them through all their changes that, in my opinion, peaked artistically with the double whammy of Out of Time and Automatic For the People in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Even if theyve been a patchy studio proposition since then, R.E.M. remain a great live band who still have their recorded moments. Im glad they're still with us.

That said, it's depressing to admit that I wouldnt care if they never made another album unless they came up with something special. The recent Collapse Into Now is particularly rote and uninspired. But if the Stones can release A Bigger Bang and Paul McCartney (as The Fireman) can come up with something like Electric Arguments, than truly anything is truly possible.  R.E.M.'s party may not be over yet. 

[Nov. 2011 Update: Well, as we now all know, their party is now officially over.  Damn.  No more great live sets from the pride of Athens.  On the plus side, no more albums like "Collapse Into Now."]

"End of the Party," The English Beat from Special Beat Service.

Next On Stage à My series will be taking a step back into the future as I spend the summer writing about shows I will be seeing between now and the end of August, primarily at the Ottawa Jazz Festival (with many decidedly non-jazz headliners this year), Ottawa Bluesfest (which hasn't been a blues festival in over a good decade but instead a multi-genre delight ... although this year's line-up is incredibly weak, apart from a few highlights), and the later-in-the-summer Folk Festival.

I'll be starting by looking at a 2.5 hour Brian Wilson concert we attended at the National Arts Centre last Monday night  on the occasion of Brian’s 69th birthday and will then be writing about sets I plan on taking in by k.d. lang & the Siss Boom Bang; Robert Plant & the Band of Joy; The Flaming Lips performing "The Soft Bulletin" (a HUGE personal fave of mine) in its entirety; the re-united Soundgarden; Elvis Costello & the Imposters; solo sets by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis; John Fogerty; Jane's Addiction; Wanda Jackson; Pink Martini; Erykah Badu; Steve Earle & the Dukes; Death From Above 1979; The Black Keys ... and, if I feel up to it, I may also see Death Cab for Cutie, My Morning Jacket, and Steve Miller.

Amid all this and Toronto Pride, I’ll have to find some time in there to actually write while partying my ass off. Stay tuned.

159. Wouldn’t It Be Nice: Brian Wilson, National Arts Centre, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, Monday June 20, 2011.

 

© 2011 VariousArtists

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I think we both were at that concert. Amazing how things like this happen. I remember when it was stated that REM was the best band in the world and they truly were good. Waiting for that next LP...OOops I mean...what do I mean? I cannot afford music anymore..
I'll be back for more here but in the meantime I just remember dancing my ass off to Mirror in the Bathroom.
Enjoy Pride ...
I really enjoyed this perspective, VA. I think most avid concert goers have experienced the disconnect between recorded and live performances of artists we are just discovering. And I'm with you on REM. I'm looking forward to hearing about the Brian Wilson concert--I hope he was in good voice. I was planning on writing about him, but I'm going to defer to you on this one.
I was reading and listening happily and then Roland Gift made even better for the millionth time, bein' all sharp and fine an' all like he is. Have you seen Sammy and Rosie Get Laid?

Thanks, VA ~ Enjoy what's to come!
I was never an REM fan. I know people look at me like I am nuts. I will enjoy a song or two on youtube once in awhile.. but have not bought one of their songs.
As for The Beat.. parts of them were here last year but I missed them.
HUGGGGGGGGGGGGGG
great job as usual
I saw REM sometime around Reckoning or the next lp and wasn't impressed with them as a live band. Not that they were bad, but they were unspectacular. For me, Murmer is great for it's nebulous (but catchy) songs and unique vibe that were so strong and different at the time. I do think the producers had a lot to do with it, but isn't that what an ex-producer always would think?
That was an era where music shifted and you captured it well. As always, great writing!!
I love it when I recognize someone in your title and think "yay--I know them" or "I saw them," then you add so much detail and dimension that my own experience is enhanced retroactively. In this case, I "stumble"d upon (get it? :) R.E.M. live at Danceteria and bought the single "Sitting Still" and EP"Chronictown." I just checked my collection to see if I still had that, and I do. Never followed them, but certainly liked them. Did not become a believer at that gig. I can't say how they were live, but I wouldnt trust my own judgment. I was a poseur, just there to wear my latest outfit and check out the scene, then return to married life and working for Macy's advertising. I skimmed the music surface of the 80s like the fashion scene I was illustrating at the time--it was all part of the experience to me, stimulating and fun, but my spiritual musical epiphanies were both before and later. I loved ska: the Specials, the Jam, the English Beat ("Wha'ppen" in my collection). And the first CD I ever bought was the Fine Young Cannibals. You really got me got me going, V.A.! (r)
I saw REM warm up for The English Beat at The University of Rochester in 1983. At the time, The Beat were my favorite band, though I agree completely that the quality of their albums dropped sharply from the incredible first album down to the polished pop of their third album. As for REM, I have never been a fan - live or album.
Rated
Geez, I'd forgotten how long it's been since I heard The Beat. That I Confess is really catchy. Re the non-registering REM, sometimes it just takes a couple of listenings. Or maybe the stimulants kicked in too soon or not soon enough. I hadn't known the Beat-FYC link so thanks for that. Keep it up.
Algis: That is too cool that you were also there. I've been waiting for that to happen — for someone on OS to have been at one of these shows I am writing about ... so, I'm handing you a virtual award! Although I thought it would have been Scarlett as the first one to have been at one of these shows. Speaking of whom ...

Scarlett: Mirror in the Bathroom is a big favourite of mine too. And indeed I will enjoy Pride -- merci!

lschmoopie: I think it really depends on the artist, venue, the night being "right" etc. I have certainly discovered some acts via a live set ... but then some artists really don't "work" live but make brilliant records and, conversely, I have seen some acts who are incredible to see live, yet their studio recordings never seem(ed) to capture their essence. As for Brian, I'll be writing about him in early July. I'm a big Beach Boys and Brian fan, and it was my second time seeing him.

catch-22: Roland Gift indeed had a great voice and the FYC were a terrific pop group. It's a shame they never made a third album. But then, if they weren't inspired to do so, perhaps it's better that they left things as is. I've never seen "Sammy and Rosy" although I know he is in it and have had many people rave about it to me. Haven't been avoiding it or anything, just haven't gotten around. Thanks for reminding me that I need to check it out. And I will indeed enjoy what's to come ... just got in from Robert Plant, and tomorrow night it's Elvis Costello.

Linda: We'll have to agree to disagree on REM. Yep, I was one of those guys obsessed with them. Looking forward to your coming back 'round these parts soon and finally meeting up with you!

Yserba: Perhaps it's a case that it took them a while to become something special live. They're coming up again, way down the line as no.107, and that show was superb. "nebulous (but catchy) songs and unique vibe" is a great way of describing Murmur. I liked every album up until '92, and chunks of what followed, but Murmur & Reckoning are particular favourites. Thanks for the comments, Yserba.

dirndl: Glad to provide that retroactive enhancement! And har, har re: Stumble. Those records should be worth a few bucks if they're originals. And you got to see them at Danceteria too! Stayed tuned for my own misadventures of '80s excess at Danceteria, appearing later in the year. Fantastic club. Love (and saw) all those bands you mentioned except for the FYC. Cublet just picked up that first FYC CD last year and I was sort of surprised how much I enjoyed it, after not having heard it in so long.

littlewillie: You would have seen them just a few days before or after this show, Rochester being just a few hours away from London. So I'll give you the virtual Silver to Algis' Gold! And I agree that first album, I Just Can't Stop It, is absolutely top notch.

Abrawang: I Confess is a good tune, as is Save It For Later, but the rest of the album is pretty iffy from what I remember. I had it on vinyl but sold it years ago, although I still have the first two. And a range of stimulants were perpetually kicking in back in the day.
As usual, you've amused the heck out of me with your review, particularly that law firm comment! Now please tell me you'll have a Replacements review for my reading pleasure in the future....:)
PoshPudding: I do/will! Unfortunately, it's coming up waaay down the line as #72. Short version: they were great!