Mike Chapple reflects on one of Liverpool’s greatest gigs.
There have been a number of truly great Liverpool gigs down the years: Stone Roses at the Royal Court December 95, Pink Floyd at the Empire November 74, even Tom Jones (dont laugh, missus it’s true!) at the Summer Pops a couple of years back.
But right up there with them is REM at the Royal Court on Sunday May 21 1989.
It was the first night of a double-header and of course tickets had sold in a flash even before the horrors of Ticketmaster and handling charges had come to pass.
I was sitting in the much missed confines of the Shakespeare pub on Williamson Square just a stone’s throw from the theatre itself.
It was a beautiful sun drenched summers evening and a couple of chums and I had already consumed a pint or five by way of celebrating our good fortune at securing tickets for the vertiginous upper balcony, standing in which can be a very unnerving experience after a few bevvies.
But the clock was ticking and when it got to about 8.30pm we knew it was time to go. There was something surreal about the short walk to the theatre – there was just nobody else on the street and the city was unusually quiet. The feeling was compounded when we got to the Court itself – no queues not even any touts.
Apart from the two guys we showed our tickets to the lobby was completely empty as were the stairs which we ran up right to the top of the theatre where we opened the double doors and Wap! We couldn’t believe our eyes or our ears. The place was packed, the excited crowd chanting and heaving like a giant ants nest through a great fug of ciggie and dope smoke.
A few minutes later the band ambled on stage to an ear splittting roar and the hundreds in the stalls charged the stage.
I think Michael Stipe especially was taken aback by the reaction although veterans to gigs in Liverpool – especially those staged at the weekend – know the fever pitch that the audience can reach can be unlike any other, anywhere else.
In fact the crush got so bad down the front that the frontman – mindful of the Hillsborough disaster just over a month before – pleaded with the audience to take it easy. It had the desired affect but didn’t quell the reception for every song most of which was sung out off by heart.
The gig built to a crescendo that peaked with It’s The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and appropriately it was like a bomb going off.
The crowd were clapping and screaming en mass for an encore. In fact the stomping in the balcony got so bad I thought the thing was going to coallapse.
The band finally returned for two extended encores which meant that we barely had time to get the last train home.
Er, how rock n roll is that? But what a fantastic night.
Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool: 21 May 1989:
Support: Blue Aeroplanes
Set: Pop Song 89 / These Days / Turn You Inside-Out / Disturbance At The Heron House / Orange Crush / King Of Birds / SItting Still / Feeling Gravitys Pull / Cuyahoga / World Leader Pretend / Begin The Begin / Pretty Persuasion / Get Up / Life And How To Live It / It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)
Encore 1: Stand / Belong / You Are The Everything
Encore 2: Harpers / Summertime / Finest Worksong / Perfect Circle / After Hours.
Setlist courtesy of REM Timeline