The first thing everyone present at the 40 Watt last night found out was that Peter Buck has quite the voice. It’s probably more accurate to call it a growl or a snarl, but rest assured that Buck’s guitar playing isn’t the only thing that is capable of blistering audience’s ears.
Buck’s punked-out, hourlong set was full of songs from his self-titled vinyl release out on Mississippi Records. It did not disappoint. Joined by R.E.M. touring musicians Scott McCaughey on bass and guitar and Bill Rieflin on drums, as well as some unsightly mustached dude on eardrum-blasting lead guitar, Buck and company played so aggressively on “10 Million BC” and “It’s Alright” that they sounded like players half their age. The audience seemed to agree with him when Buck told the soundman, “It can never be too loud.”
When Buck decided to take a break from banging away on his electric guitar, he called the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood to the stage to utter the words to “Roswell,” a spoken word track that Buck and Hood were inspired to write after reading Brent Hendricks’ memoir, A Long Day At the End of the World, about the shifting culture of the South. The song may not have cohered with the rest of Buck’s rock-heavy set, but it was instructive to see just how wide the guitarist’s palette remains post-R.E.M.
Later in the homecoming set, Buck brought out Mike Mills and Bill Berry for a version of “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” from R.E.M.’s 1984 release, Reckoning. (See video above.) It was what everyone in the crowd was hoping to see (especially since Mills hung out pre-show in the crowd), and the sold-out crowd sang along as loud as the P.A. The semi-expected jam showed just how much gratitude the three have for the town that used to be their home base.
And, really: Three out of four ain’t bad, right? While many in the audience were probably speculating where Michael Stipe might be (there is, afterall, a multi-day festival in Athens this weekend celebrating filmmaker Jim McKay, director of R.E.M.’s Tourfilm and one of Stipe’s longtime business partners), there was no sign of the guy on stage or in the crowd. (EDIT: The balded one was indeed present, though playin’ it cool in the back.) But as much as Stipe’s presence on stage would have lifted the show into legendary status, he wasn’t required in order to make the crowd go absolutely bonkers.
For last night at least, Kevn Kinney’s Roamin’ Countrymen should have been renamed the Rotating Countrymen, given all of the instrument switching and personnel changes during his set last night. Buck provided support on mandolin and sported a wide grin throughout most of the set (I assume that was because he was playfully improvising throughout). McCaughey and The Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ frontman also brought out Mills, Berry and Hood to play along on quite a few songs, including a late-evening rendition of “Straight to Hell” that sent a decent portion of the crowd straight into slow dancing.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.