By Mark Kemp
R.E.M., the Athens, Georgia, quartet that became one of the biggest American indie-rock bands of its era, and brought a folk-rock jangle to the punk and new wave scenes of the early 1980s, performed their first gig 36 years ago today to a crowd of 150 at the Koffee Club in their hometown.
After R.E.M.’s 1980 live debut, the band would record its first few albums for the adventurous I.R.S. Records label, and then later score numerous hits for Warner Bros. in the late ’80s and ’90s, including “The One I Love,” “Man on the Moon,” and “Losing My Religion.” Although R.E.M. began on electric guitars, the group always brought a folk sensibility to its songs and used multiple acoustic guitars in the recording of the track “Talk About the Passion” on its first full-length album, Murmur.
That song — as well as other early ones, including “So. Central Rain” and “Don’t Go Back to Rockville” — would inspire many a young college kid to continue picking up acoustic guitars during the height of the punk/new wave era, when electric guitars and synthesizers were all the rage. R.E.M. would later bring numerous acoustic instruments into its arsenal, including mandolin, and would help ignite the alternative rock era of the 1990s.
Watch this clip of R.E.M. on MTV’s “The Cutting Edge” in 1984, doing a rare acoustic performance of “Driver 8,” from the band’s album of the following year, Fables of the Reconstruction.