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R.E.M. kick off their U.S. tour

EW Online offers a preview of what fans can expect from Michael Stipe and Co.

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R.E.M.
Anton Corbijn

At R.E.M.’s July 5 concert in Paris, France, Michael Stipe was happy just to be alive. He had spent the previous day anxiously watching the clock after hearing that July 4, 1999, was the date Nostradamus had predicted the world would end. ”I have to say, I felt good when it turned 12:00 (midnight) and the world was the same as it always was: f—ed up, chaotic, and kind of nutty,” the relieved lead singer told the fervid French fans who filled up the 15,000-capacity Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy.

Touring for the first time since the sudden departure of longtime drummer Bill Berry last year, R.E.M has borrowed stickman Joey Waronker from Beck. And after weeks on the road in Europe, the band started its 23-date U.S. tour Aug. 9 in Los Angeles. Here’s what fans can expect to see at the coming American shows.

During the nearly three-hour Paris concert, R.E.M. performed eight tracks from ”Up,” their intimate 13th album, starting with the driving ”Lotus.” They also played such oldies as ”Country Feedback” (Stipe’s fave), ”Sweetness Follows” (guitarist Peter Buck’s favorite), ”The One I Love,” and ”Losing My Religion.” One other highlight was ”Man on the Moon,” the song inspired by Andy Kaufman — and the title of the much ballyhooed biopic of the late comic (due out Nov. 5) starring Jim Carrey and R.E.M. pal Courtney Love. R.E.M. scored the film’s soundtrack, which includes the promising new song ”Great Beyond.”

R.E.M.’s stage set isn’t elaborate — an assortment of flashing neon lights shaped like a star, a sunflower, a coffee cup, and a globe were the primary enhancements. The stage’s bareness, though, heightened the emotionality of the numerous stripped- down songs. Stipe sang an a cappella intro to ”Walk Unafraid” and later strapped on a guitar for an impromptu rendition of Sinead O’Connor’s ”Black Boys on Mopeds” that seamlessly segued into ”I’m Not Over You.” ”I can’t play guitar to save my life,” Stipe admitted, ”but goddammit, I’m gonna try.”

As the show wound down, R.E.M. hit full power on ”E-Bow the Letter,” on which Stipe dueted with opening act Patti Smith (reprising her appearance on the album version). And the night’s ending was apt: an evocative and energizing version of ”It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine).” ”I feel FIIIIIIINE!” Stipe reiterated. And why not — Nostradamus had been proven wrong.