It was almost a full REM reunion last night at the Fox Theatre as Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills took the stage as part of “Revival,” a benefit concert for the Fox Theatre Institute, which aids in the preservation of small theaters across Georgia.
Drivin N Cryin frontman Kevn Kinney – who was also the charming and congenial host for the night – filled in for the missing Michael Stipe on a rousing “The One I Love” that had the audience on its feet singing along, while “Texarkana” was also a welcome bit of REM nostalgia. Berry, Buck and Mills (I’ll call them BBM) were as nimble and powerful as ever. I wish they would play together more, even if Stipe is a no-show.
BBM also brought out two special guests that also had the crowd slack-jawed: Pylon vocalist Vanessa Briscoe Hay to perform “Crazy” and The Brains’ Tom Gray for “Money Changes Everything.” It was just like Athens in the 80s all over again.
Another highlight of the nearly four-hour show was a too-short set by Michelle Malone, which included a blistering “Feather in a Hurricane.” In an alternate universe, Malone is the massive superstar she deserves to be. Her voice, her swagger, her guitar chops – she’s spectacular.
Drivin N Cryin also deserve to be playing stadiums, but it was a treat to see them rocking and enjoying the adoration at the Fox. The audience sang along loud and proud to “Fly Me Courageous” and “Straight To Hell,” which saw all the musicians reassemble for an old-fashioned jam.
That probably should have been the finale, but then Drive-By Truckers took to the stage and things fell apart. There had been various sound and equipment gaffes all evening, but everything seemed to implode the moment their set began. I think the tech crew spent as much time on stage as Drive-By Truckers. The sound itself was way too loud and muddy, making it hard to hear vocalists Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Even with those issues, it was hard to deny the power of tunes like “Ronnie and Neil” and “The Living Bubba.”
Unfortunately, as the band plowed on in what seemed a too-long set, the audience began to depart. By the time the evening’s talent took to the stage for the actual finale – a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World” – they were playing to a much emptier house.
Still, the first half of the evening contained so many transcendent moments, that I left the Fox a bit giddy. If only Stipe had shown up! Hats off to Fox Theatre Institute Director Leigh Burns and her team for pulling together a historic night of music on Atlanta’s most historic stage.