Sunday, February 23, 2020

Certain Songs #1757 – R.E.M. – “Walk Unafraid (Köln, Germany 05-12-2001)” | Medialoper

TV Broadcast, 2001

. . .

File Under Masquerade

On Up, “Walk Unafraid” was a low-key bag of feedbacky guitars and bouncy electronics that even when it kicked into gear, kicked into a low gear at best. It was still one of my favorite songs on the album because of the melody as well as the sentiment, but it wasn’t until they had to arrange it in a live setting that it really took off.

And while there’s a pretty decent version on the otherwise moribund R.E.M. Live, the version that totally kills me was from a free show they did in Köln, Germany on May 12, 2001, which was broadcast live on MTV Europe, and almost instantly found its way into my hands.

In this version, “Walk Unafraid” opens with Michael Stipe chanting “I’m looking at you / I’m seeing myself” a couple of times over a sustained organ played by Ken Stringfellow before slowly opening with the chorus.

I will walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me hiiiiiiiiiiiii-ayeee-iiiigh
I will walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me hiiii-ayeee-iiiigh

And then as Peter Buck holds sustained notes on his guitar, Scott McCaughey crazily sweeps up and down a piano while Joey Waronker finds — not quite a beat, but a rhythm, after which Stipe sings the first verse.

As the sun comes up, as the moon goes down
These heavy notions creep around
It makes me think, long ago
I was brought into this life a little lamb
A little lamb
Courageous, stumbling
Fearless was my middle name

At which point, the full band kicks in with a ferocious momentum, Waronker leading the charge, but everybody else keeping up with him as they continue with the pre-chorus and somehow ramp it up higher for the chorus.

But somewhere there I lost my way
Everyone walks the same
Expecting me to step
The narrow path they’ve laid
They claim to

Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love me or leave me hiiiiiiigh

The drama here is utterly awesome, as all of the tension set up by the crazy, off-beat interludes and the verses is fully and completely resolved time and time again, as they joyfully run unafraid into the pre-choruses and choruses time and time again. It’s a remarkable and bravura reinvention of a song that was already pretty great.

At the end, Michael Stipe stands there, arms raised to the sky, seemingly marveling at the massive noise his band is still making, as Joey Waronker makes joyful drum rolls for the sheer hell of it.

“Walk Unafraid (Köln, Germany 05-12-2001)”

“Walk Unafraid” from UP

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