I needed a shot in the arm. I got Michael Stipe. And I feel fine.

I got a phone call around four o’clock. “If you’re fanatical enough to see REM two nights in a row, I just came across a pair of tickets for tonight.”

Ends up, I am fanatical enough.

So I hitched a ride to Jones Beach with my buddy Brian (he wrote the liner notes to the “Summer’s Gone” CD Single , and is on deck to write my new bio), suffered through an hour of traffic, and 45 degrees in the ocean wind, to hear my favorite band perform. And while I was cold, I was not disappointed.

Surprises included “Maps & Legends,” “Sitting Still,” and “So Fast, So Numb.” Plus some great treats like “Nightswimming,” and the well-anticipated “Losing My Religion,” “Man on the Moon,” “The One I Love,” “End of the World,” etc etc. And wow, “Everybody Hurts” and “Strange Currencies” were really quite moving. I was reminded how deep their catalogue is (which is the idea).

I was surprised by how kitschy, how chintzy, how very ‘Lost in Translation’ the band’s set felt. Still, come the encore (“End of the World” most nights), when all the lights are flashing at once, and everything’s twinkling like Times Square on prom night, it’s quite a payoff.

Brian and I compared notes the whole ride home (much to our fellow traveller’s shagrin). He may be the only person I know who can seemlessly reference “the IRS years” and “They airbrushed my face.”
Overall, it was a great show. The band was looser than I’d ever seen. Michael was part carney, part politico, part glam andronyne. He had some beautiful, soulful moments (especially “Everybody Hurts”), and some rough patches (his “Yeah!” exclamations in nearly every song) — but that’s My Michael. Peter did his best Edge-meets-Neil Young on a rousing “She Just Wants To Be,” which I look forward to hearing again tonight (though I’d love to hear Edge or Neil do it). And Mike Mills has never sounded better, now backed by three terrific musicians (including Scott from The Minus Five).

So, if they perform “I Believe,” “The Wrong Child,” and/or “Flowers of Guatemala” Saturday night where I think, by the way, they will rise to the Madison Square Garden legacy — all will be well with the world. Despite the whole Schwarzenegger thing. And the Bush administration. Suicide bombers in Israel. Blood for oil… Heck, I feel fine.

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