REM : Toronto City Centre

Stipe and co converge on Toronto's centre for a free concert...

“You look good kinda damp,” smiles Sir Stipey, clearly at his spasmodic best today. His is the sort of spectacle that downtown Toronto doesn’t often get to enjoy. In lieu of a proper tour date (or for that matter, a proper tour) REM. have converged onto the city’s nerve centre (via Yonge and Dundas St) for a free lunchtime show. The afternoon’s turnout is nothing short of inspiring – early estimates peg the overall attendance at upwards of 20,000.

As such, not even the all-too-predictable midday drizzle is enough to fetter this crowd, the vast majority of whom can’t see further than three raincoats ahead. No matter – Stipe appears determined to use the weather as some sort of rallying point; in fact, he seems intent on making up for the impersonal nature of this monolithic event by delivering some sort of rarefied, impassioned moment of spontaneous wonder. He exposes his belly, sings impromptu songs about rain, and even gives meandering, existential speeches about the drudgery of the nine to five bore. Naturally, the audience lap it up, but in retrospect, it’s obvious that all he really needed to do was sing.

Because, in the end, not even Stipe and his wayward charisma have a hope in hell of matching the intrinsic power of REM‘s very best songs. The opening strains of ‘The One I Love’ and ‘Losing My Religion’ both elicit rapturous applause; ‘Man On The Moon’ morphs into a communal sing-song of epic proportions; even theREM-by-numbers ‘Imitation Of Life’ takes on a vitality sadly missing from its studio counterpart.

Admittedly, things chug a bit near the middle when the band clutter the setlist with too many mid-tempo dirges from the same-ish ‘Reveal’. But today’s rain-dappled festivities are more about celebrating REM‘s legacy than about affirming the relative validity of their current musical output. On that level, it’s a love-in, and verily, a success.

Mark Pytlik

Click here for REM’s bulletin board