Setlist History: R.E.M. Debuts 9 Songs In Pageantry Kick-off

R.E.M. in the 1980s released six studio albums, a delightful collection of B-sides and covers, and a greatest hits LP. Each of the studio albums were more successful than their previous ones.

In the middle of that was 1986's Lifes Rich Pageant, an attempt to bring the band out of the artsy darkness of mumbling lyrics and jangly guitars and into clarity and strength.

It worked.

From the first song, "Begin The Begin," one hears the distinctive Peter Buck guitar and Michael Stipe vocal, but there's feedback and heavier drums -- not to mention that sweet Count Basie pun with the title. It's new and improved R.E.M.

The band sure seemed eager to roll out all these new tunes for the audience of about 10,000 in Alabama on September, 5, 1986, because they played three encores and live debuted a heap of new tunes including a few that didn't even make the album.

There wasn't a lot of video happening at concerts in the mid-'80s, but there is this excellent recording from that show.

"These Days," "Begin The Begin," "The One I Love," "Cuyahoga," "The Flowers Of Guatemala," "I Believe," "Superman," "Strange" and "Lightnin' Hopkins" were all performed for the first time there at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre, in Pelham, Alabama.

"These Days" would be how the band kicked off many of the gigs during the Pageantry Tour. Of the 63 concerts supporting the album, R.E.M played two songs 60 times: "Superman" the cover of The Clique, and "These Days."

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R.E.M. playing "These Days" a few days after they live debuted it in Alabama.

R.E.M. was never shy about playing covers at shows. Here they were fresh from a bit of a break and their first concert of the tour they performed three - a Wire song they'd never played before ("Strange"), a Velvet Underground tune they'd put on Dead Letter Office the following year, and "Superman."

In October the co-writer of "Superman," Gary Zekley would join the band to perform it in Dekalb, Illinois.

In an interview that September in '86, Buck explained the name of Life's Rich Pageant came from a line in a Peter Sellers movie, A Shot In The Dark, which was the first Pink Panther sequel (of 8!).

In the scene Inspector Clouseau tells a woman that being a policeman is hard but the struggles are all a part of "life's rich pageant."

Buck said the band watched the movie during a harrowing day in Wyoming when their tour bus broke down and they had to kill 13 hours waiting for it to be repaired, so they rode bikes and took in the film.

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It then dawned on them that the bungling French character was right, all mishaps, including inopportune vehicle fails, are all part of the pageant.

"Stupid as it is, it's a neat way to look at life," the guitarist said.

The album would spend 32 weeks on the charts, peaking at #21, and became the band's first gold record.

One more thing about this show. With all the new material from Lifes Rich Pageant, why would they play a pair of songs that didn't even make the cut and wouldn't have it's day until the following record?

Well one of them was "The One I Love" which would be the band's first Top 10 single.

If they liked the song so much, and could sense its popularity, why not include it on the LP? The only reason I can imagine is the "FIRE" in the middle of "The One I Love" sounds a lot like the chorus of "Cuyahoga."

As for R.E.M., they have retired as a unit and a reunion doesn't seem in the future.

In 2021, Stipe told WNYC’s Alison Stewart, "we will never reunite. We decided when we split up that that would just be really tacky and probably money-grabbing, which might be the impetus for a lot of bands to get back together. We don’t really need that, and I’m really happy that we just have the legacy of the 32 years of work that we have.”

But that doesn't leave out solo projects. Indeed, last year he told Departures that's exactly what is in store.

"I’m working on a solo album, my first," he revealed. "I’m collaborating with a bunch of different musicians and each of those songs, if I get my way, which I think I will because I’m paying for it, will be very different. I have no management. I have no label. For the first time in my adult life, I don’t have a contract with anyone except myself. So I get to do whatever I want. Anyway, there will be a visual representation for each of the songs, and it should come together next year."

Here we are in September, so does that mean we can expect a Christmas gift from the 63 year old? That would be super, man.

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