Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Certain Songs #1753: R.E.M. – “Country Feedback (Hamburg 11-02-1998)” | Medialoper

TV Broadcast, 1998

. . .

File Under Need

This live version of “Country Feedback” just might be my favorite R.E.M. song.

At the very least, it’s my favorite live performance by R.E.M., and given that I’ve listened to countless bootlegs and official live albums over the past 35 years, that’s gotta mean something.

This flower is scorched, this film is on
On a maddening loop, these clothes
These clothes don’t fit us right and I’m to blame
It’s all the same, it’s all the same

Named after what it sounded like as opposed to anything about its lyrics — meaning that they went with what they called the instrumental demo, no doubt — “Country Feedback” was a major song on Out of Time, but live, it took on a whole new dimension, being one of the highlights of bootlegs from both their 1992 Athens show for Greenpeace and the 1995 worldwide radio broadcast from London.

Both of those shows are now available legitimately — the Athens show as part of the Automatic For the People reissue and the London show part of R.E.M. at the BBC — neither one prepared me for the versions of “Country Feedback” that came out of the 1998 mini-tour. By then, of course, instead of taping things from the radio or buying CD boots, I was beginning to acquire them from the internet. And I don’t remember very many of the details, but I think I got them from a pre-Napster file-sharing app(?) called “Hotwire.”

You come to me with a bone in your hand
You come to me with your hair curled tight
You come to me with positions
You come to me with excuses
Ducked out in a row
You wear me out, you wear me out

“Country Feedback” starts out slow, with Peter Buck strumming his Rickenbacker, Mike Mills and Scott McCaughey on piano and organ, while ex-(and future) Posies stalwart Ken Stringfellow and Beck drummer Joey Waronker underneath. And as it continues, it doesn’t so much move forward as unfold — the band vamping the same sequence over and over and over supporting Stipe singing about the pain of what appeared to be an epic break-up.

We’ve been through fake-a-breakdown, self-hurt
Plastics, collections
Self-help, self-pain
EST, psychics, fuck all
I was central, I had control
I lost my head
I need this, I need this
A paperweight, junk garage
A winter rain, a honey pot
Crazy, all the lovers have been tagged
A hotline, a wanted ad
It’s crazy what you could’ve had

And in the case of the live versions of “Country Feedback,” from that 1998 tour, I choose to read it as Stipe working through the pain of the break-up of his band, which even with stalwarts like McCaughey, Stringfellow and McCaughey as rebound musicians, will never ever be the same. And in doing so, turns “Country Feedback” into a gorgeously intense howl of pain as he gets stuck on “it’s crazy what you could have had.” He can’t get past it.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I need this

It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I need this

It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed

And then after that long “neeeeeeeeeeeeeed” he runs out of words, even as still needs to express himself, so he just starts “deh deh deh deh deh, deh deh deh” like he’s been possessed by the holy spirit of Van Morrison. “Deh deh deh deh deh, deh deh deh”

Then he finds his words again, but he’s still lost his mind, stuck on the loss and the guilt and the pain, his voice higher and breaking at every turn.

It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I neeeeeeeeeeed this

It’s crazy what you could’ve had
It’s crazy what you could’ve had
I need this
I neeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed

The first time he held out that long “neeeed” was all I could have never wanted, but the second one is perhaps my favorite Michael Stipe vocal moment period, both as a reminder of what he lost and why he was still doing it.

After the second long “neeeeeeed,” there’s a bit of an organ solo, after which Stipe — done, defeated, deflated — alternates the “deh deh deh deh deh deh” with “it’s crazy what you could have had” and “I need this” until he doesn’t so much burn out, but fade away.

At which point Peter Buck steps up.

I can’t remember when and where I read it, but at some point in all of the zillions of words I’ve read about R.E.M., I read something that declared guitar solos Peter Buck’s natural enemy, and while most of his solos are incredibly short, not this time. This time, he takes a solo that is almost the equal of Stipe’s vocal, channeling Neil Young in the same way that Stipe channelled Van Morrison. And while it’s nowhere near as long as a Young solo, it’s incredibly long for a Peter Buck solo, and incredibly startling, as it brings “Country Feedback” to its end.

(Of course, when they played the Bridge School that year, Neil joined them and took several long acoustic solos — including starting one over the long “neeeeeeeeeed”, because that’s just how Neil rolls.)

For me, if R.E.M. could still do this live without Bill Berry, if they could still move me this much, then I was going to continue to follow them to the bitter end. And in fact, that whole Hamburg show is worth watching on YouTube for how it roughed up several of the Up songs like “Sad Professor” and “The Apologist.”

“Country Feedback” live in Hamburg 11-02-1998

“Country Feedback” official music video

“Country Feedback” with Neil Young, Shoreline 10-17-1998

“Country Feedback” Stockholm, 1998

“Country Feedback” Madrid, 2003

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