Saturday, December 5, 2009


I wrote about the new R.E.M. release, Live At The Olympia In Dublin: 39 Songs when it was announced, and also the night before I talked about it on The Morning Jolt With Larry Flick on OutQ. What I haven't really written about is how much I enjoy the album, I've been listening to it all the time. Singer Michael Stipe starts the concert by announcing "This is not a show!" Call it what you want, it is a great performance and a worthly live album.

The context of the album is that, while they were recording 2008's Accelerate -- the best album they've done since drummer Bill Berry left the band -- they took a few days off to play a couple of shows at The Olympia in Dublin, Ireland. They were trying out many of the songs from Accelerate, but also really exploring their deep catalog. Sometimes band -- particularly R.E.M. (in my opinion) -- get cranky when they're on tour for a long time, and it can sometimes show on stage. But in this case, they weren't on tour, they were playing five shows as a break from the studio, and they were really enjoying it (despite being admittedly nervous about all the new songs). It results in a show that you just wish you were at. There's nothing like a band with a two-decades-plus career playing new music when they know it's great. At R.E.M. shows, you tend to feel that new songs are being shoved down your throat. This time, the new songs were great, and much catchier than most of their recent output. They knew they were onto something good, and that made them more comfortable -- and also more comfortable playing more of thier classic material. So what you get is powerful new songs like "Living Well Is The Best Revenge," "Horse To Water," "Man-Sized Wreath" and "Until The Day Is Done" plus classics like "Disturbance At The Heron House," "Cuyahoga," "Maps And Legends," "So. Central Rain," "Welcome To The Occupation" and even "1,000,000."

Drummer Bill Rieflin has a more Bonham-esque approach to the drums compared to Bill Berry's Ringo-ish style (Rieflin's past credits include Ministry, The Revolting Cocks, Lard, KMFDM and Pigface), but somehow he fits in well despite his heavier sound. This version of the band really gells: I would argue that the testosterone infusion isn't such a bad thing in R.E.M.'s case. I would imagine that most R.E.M. fans (and most R.E.M. members) would love to see Bill Berry return to the band, but since that probably won't happen, lets hope Bill Rieflin stays for a long time, he deserves props for doing a great job.

I know lots of people who wrote off R.E.M. after Bill Berry left -- and in some cases, long before he left. I have to admit, I sort of agreed, I liked a few things since he left, but I couldn't really sit through any of their albums. Accelerate made a great argument to re-consider them as a band who still have something to say, and 39 Songs is further arguement that they are still awesome. And that they are worth paying to see in concert (which has not always one of their strengths). You would have to hope they'd be as good as they are on this live album.

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