Outside of a perhaps a few flight attendants, there's not many who have an unkind word to say about R.E.M. guitarist, composer and all around good guy Peter Buck. Despite a high profile career that stretches back to the early '80s, Buck retains a certain degree of gratitude and surprise about how things have turned out, including playing sideman to other artists (notably Robyn Hitchcock) and working with new bands on a regular basis. While it's hard to point to specifics in his playing that mark him out like a Clapton, a Jack White or other ballyhooed pickers but there's a core solidity that makes what he does really satisfying and enjoyable each time he picks up his instrument. His undisguised affection for rock n' roll is pretty winning, and you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who knows more about the history of the genre. He helped put Athens, GA on the musical map and he's been the driving engine behind the music in R.E.M. for moving in on 30 years. Glad you're around, Mr. Buck. Hope your birthday is a grand one.
Here's a brief interview with Buck and bassist-composer-singer Mike Mills in their first TV appearance on Late Night with David Letterman from October 1983.
And here's the song they performed, So. Central Rain," before it had a title. Points to the band for playing their freshest stuff instead of pumping their just released debut, Murmur, which celebrates it's 25th anniversary this year (review of the Deluxe Edition coming to JamBase next week).
Shoot forward to today and there's still plenty of belly fire in Buck and the boys on this live version of Man Sized Wreath."
Returning to Letterman this year, we find Buck on bass with The Baseball Project, a celebration of America's pastime with pals Steve Wynn, ScottMcCaughey and Linda Pitmon that put out the quite swell Volume One: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails in 2008.
One of the jewels of the R.E.M. catalog is Country Feedback," and this shimmering performance from 1998 in Vienna shows the tune and the band at their smoldering best.
'98 was a very good year for R.E.M. and one that found them increasingly collaborating with the upper echelon of rock's aristocracy, including this fine Ebow The Letter" with the high priestess herself, Patti Smith.
The primal perfection of Buck's guitar playing shines on Crush With Eyeliner," which shimmies like some lost Stooges one-nighter with early Bowie. Here it is live in Dallas in 1995.
Something about Buck's chord structures really clings to the mind, staying with one much longer than you might expect on first listen. To wit, The One I Love," which now feels utterly classic when at first it may have seemed a simple pop-rock song. It's in the subtleties that Buck glows and this fine performance of this tune from this year's Rock Werchter Festival shows just how well he and R.E.M.'s music is holding up.
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