the biggest wagon

I’m finally getting around to digitizing some old cassette tapes. On May 10, 1985, I saw what was then my favorite band (and who would remain that for probably another ten years), R.E.M., play at the Stock Pavilion in Madison, Wisconsin. (Incidentally, the Stock Pavilion is not named after anyone named “Stock”: it’s part of the University of Wisconsin’s animal sciences facility.) A woman whom I believe was a co-worker of Rose’s recorded the show, and I dubbed that cassette onto another tape. Here are some songs from that show – I’m surprised at how good they sound, given their source in a twenty-year-old second generation cassette. (I didn’t futz with them digitally other than increasing the volume levels and dividing them into tracks, although I’ve provided fades on these versions.)

In particular, the vocals sound pretty good on “Green Grow the Rushes” – some nice two-part backing vocals from Mills and Berry. The band works up quite a head of steam on the sequence ending the main set: “Pretty Persuasion” (not included), “Life and How to Live It,” and “Little America.” The first encore (the band did three that night) began with a version of “Second Guessing” featuring a vocal countermelody not in the Reckoning version. The second encore began with a song curiously never released in a studio version, “Theme from Two Steps Onward,” although it was played throughout the band’s 1985 tours (typically in the same position as this night, opening the second encore), and studio run-throughs supposedly were attempted both during the Fables of the Reconstruction sessions and during sessions demoing tracks for Lifes Rich Pageant. (Apparently the band gave up on the song, at least for a while: this site doesn’t list it as being played during any 1986 shows.) Although another slow, minor-key song wouldn’t have worked on Fables (and slow, minor-key songs later became their bane), I think the track might have fit somewhere on Pageant. At least, I like the song pretty well. (I don’t suppose anyone has one of the bootlegs with either of the studio versions…)

R.E.M. was also responsible for one of the weirdest moments of my concert-going life. Either the first or second time I saw the band was in Milwaukee at Summerfest on July 6, 1984. I remember that morning, standing at a bus stop in Madison (where we lived at the time), and for some reason I found myself thinking it would be cool if R.E.M. covered “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” In fact (cue spooky Theremin music), they did play that song that night – which freaked the hell out of me. I hadn’t read that they’d been playing it live, and it’s not as if it was a song I was always thinking of. And I wasn’t even wearing my swami hat.

R.E.M. live in Madison, Wisconsin, May 10, 1985:

“Green Grow the Rushes”

“Life and How to Live It”
“Little America”
“Second Guessing”
“Theme from Two Steps Onward”



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2 responses to “the biggest wagon

  1. Anonymous

    Wow–great stuff. Thanks for posting. I was at the Summerfest show also in 1984. Just remember Stipe with his back to the audience for much of the show.

    And didn’t the Stock Pavilion used to be known as “The Barn?”


  2. Anonymous

    I was at those shows, Summerfest 83 too. Ah, the good old days. But remember Peter totally missed a note in the opening riff of “Feeling Gravity’s Pull” in the first few seconds of the show.

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