That’s Me in Venkman’s Corner
OpinionEditor's Notebook

That’s Me in Venkman’s Corner

A Jewish-led R.E.M. tribute band is almost perfect for an anniversary celebration.

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

If you close your eyes, you could almost mistake these guys from Athens for the REMakes. Almost. (Photo by Stefano Andreoli)
If you close your eyes, you could almost mistake these guys from Athens for the REMakes. Almost. (Photo by Stefano Andreoli)

If you spend any time on Facebook, you couldn’t have missed the recent meme in which people posted a list of nine or 10 musical acts they saw in concert, plus one they hadn’t seen. It was annoying from the start and forgivable only for the respite it offered from politics.

If I had played the game, I might have fooled people by listing R.E.M., which anyone who went to college in the South in the late 1980s should have seen. Somehow, I never did, even though I became a big fan of the Athens band’s first five studio albums (“Murmur” through “Document”) and keep a special-edition “Reckoning” CD in my car for when I need to escape the world during the drive home from work.

Thanks to a Jewish restaurateur, however, I now feel as if I almost saw Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Bill Berry live. That’s how good the REMakes were Saturday night, May 20, at Venkman’s.

It’s an R.E.M. tribute band covering “early R.E.M.,” from its debut EP in 1982, “Chronic Town,” through the album “Monster” in 1994.

To say “Monster” is early R.E.M. is like saying the early Beatles continued through “Sgt. Pepper’s.” I think “Document,” R.E.M.’s first top 10 album, was the end of the band’s early phase, but as I learned while watching everyone around me sing along with songs I didn’t know May 20, I’m not the expert.

The REMakes are led by Geoff Melkonian, whom I had known only as the proprietor of Breadwinner Cafe and Farm to Ladle. But after three hours of experiencing his best impression of Stipe, I can say that if you’re going to see only one Jewish-fronted R.E.M. tribute band, make it REMakes, which also features Jeff Rosenberg on bass and Webb Vandiver on drums.

It’s a weird experience watching fellow middle-aged guys belting out the soundtrack of your young adulthood, but Melkonian and friends delivered a great night out. Their chosen R.E.M. catalog includes more than 100 songs, but they played most of the tunes I wanted to hear and all the ones I had to hear, from “So. Central Rain” to “Driver 8” to the encore finale of “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.”

It was fun to see Melkonian’s sister, Wendy, a stage performer whom he called “the best singer I grew up with in my house,” join him for one high-energy number as well.

But that’s also where the trouble began.

My wife, out celebrating our anniversary with me, expected “Losing My Religion” at that point with Wendy Melkonian on lead vocals. When she didn’t get it, she spent the next 90 minutes or so in increasing frustration, hoping to hear what she considers R.E.M.’s best song. She never got it.

There’s a lesson somewhere in that frustration about accepting the beauty and wonders at hand instead of always expecting something more. But I’m not a philosopher. I’m just someone who lives by the maxim “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

I can take the criticism from Democrats and Republicans alike about the biases of myself and this newspaper, but seeing my wife’s joy turn to bitter disappointment was too much to take.

So I’m abusing my minimal power as AJT editor (and seizing my own excuse for a respite from politics) to make a simple, public request to the REMakes: Please, next time you’re at Venkman’s, play “Losing My Religion.”

Correction: This article originally said Wendy Melkonian previously performed “Losing My Religion” with the REMakes; that was incorrect.

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