Listen To The 1985 Gig When R.E.M. Were Raw, Real and Unscripted and Ready To Fight The Crowd

A live set from R.E.M.'s Reconstruction tour, and arguably the most interesting setlist they ever played. After being heckled by an audience member at the start of the encore, the band threatened to fight them before moving into a series of bizarre covers

 Michael Stipe (left) and Peter Buck (right) on stage in Ghent, Belgium, during R.E.M.'s 1985 tour


Not everyone was into R.E.M. when they were raw and unscripted. The indie act who became one of the world’s biggest bands of the late 1980s and early ‘90s started local and unplanned. As Robert Dean Lurie writes in Begin the Begin: R.E.M.‘s Early Years:

R.E.M. began their live career with an advantage few bands are granted: their first performance at their friend Kathleen O’Brien’s massive birthday party in April 1980 had gone over so well that practically overnight they became one of the most popular bands in Athens, Georgia. So R.E.M. never belonged to the art scene, even if their immediate circle of friends hailed from that group. They didn’t go through an incubation period of playing the kind of intimate Athens house parties where men walked around in dresses and women wore outrageous wigs. Quite the contrary: they were, in the words of Party Out of Bounds author Rodger Lyle Brown, “dude rock.” And though Michael Stipe would later come to be known for his oblique lyrics and distinctive voice, his most notable contribution to R.E.M.’s early success was visual.


 More details Barrymore's Music Hall, Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada R.E.M.


Fast forward to 1985, and R.E.M.’s third album, Fables of the Reconstruction, is at number 28 on the Billboard charts, Can’t Get There From Here is playing on MTV. The rising stars arrive at the 300-capacity Barrymore’s Music Hall in Ottawa, Ontario, for a leg of their  ‘Reconstruction I’ tour. It’s going well. And then they play a long series of covers for their encore.

In Begin the Begin: R.E.M.‘s Early Years, we learn:

After running through their regular set list, the band was heckled with cries of “Fuck off!” when they encored with “Moon River.” This almost resulted in a fight: [bassist Mike] Mills allegedly had to be restrained from attacking the heckler. A couple of songs later, [guitarist Peter] Buck couldn’t let it go. “The guy who yelled ‘Fuck you’ during ‘Moon River’: Meet me backstage, you asshole.” Further heckling ensued, but instead of storming off (which the band had sometimes done in similar situations), R.E.M. elected to play an entire second set of mostly cover songs—including punishing, shambolic versions of “Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room” (originally performed by Brownsville Station but mistakenly attributed by Mills to Bachman Turner Overdrive), “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “God Save the Queen,” interspersed with deranged monologues from [singer Michael] Stipe and Mills.

Mark Tomkins was there:

I was at this concert. It was unbelievable turn of events that led to the band playing a long series of covers for their encore. Other than the heckler, the crowd loved it. I saw REM again in the 2000’s when they came back to Ottawa for the second time. Michael Stipe asked if anyone had been at that concert at Barrymore’s and went on to explain that they had been “over served” that night. Obviously that evening made a memorable impression on the band as well as the audience. I saw many many concerts in that era but nothing came close to approaching that evening. It was raw and real and unscripted.

You can now hear the whole gig below.



The R.E.M. Setlist at Barrymore’s Music Hall, 1985:

1. Feeling Gravitys Pull
2. Radio Free Europe
3. Letter Never Sent
4. Pills [Bo Diddley/New York Dolls]
5. Can’t Get There From Here
6. 7 Chinese Bros.
7. Laughing
8. Driver 8
9. Maps and Legends
10. Fall on Me
11. Have You Ever Seen the Rain? [Creedence Clearwater Revival]
12. West of the Fields
13. Auctioneer (Another Engine)
14. Old Man Kensey
15. Pretty Persuasion
16. Moral Kiosk
17. Life and How to Live It

The Encores:

1. Moon River [Audrey Hepburn/Andy Williams]
2. I Can’t Control Myself [The Troggs]
3. 1,000,000 — includes Fascists Eat Donuts [Pop-O-Pies]
4. I Can Only Give You Everything [Them/The Troggs]
5. Tired of Singing Trouble/Boy (Go) [Golden Palominos]/Paint It Black [Rolling Stones]
6. In the Year 2525 [Zager and Evans]
7. Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room [Brownsville Station]
8. Sweet Home Alabama [Lynyrd Skynyrd]
9. (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone [Paul Revere & The Raiders/The Monkees] — includes 1 2 X U [Wire]
10. Secret Agent Man [Johnny Rivers]
11. The Lion Sleeps Tonight [The Tokens]
12. God Save the Queen [Sex Pistols]
13. Roadrunner [The Modern Lovers] — includes 1 2 X U [Wire]
14. 20th Century Boy [T.Rex]
15. Skank
16. Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)

Via: Dangerous Minds

Lead Image: Michael Stipe (left) and Peter Buck (right) on stage in Ghent, Belgium, during R.E.M.’s 1985 tour.

Would you like to support Flashbak?

Please consider making a donation to our site. We don't want to rely on ads to bring you the best of visual culture. You can also support us by signing up to our Mailing List. And you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For great art and culture delivered to your door, visit our shop.