Wednesday, August 15, 2012

R.E.M. 17: Live

R.E.M.’s commercial status was at its lowest since the band began, and maybe they were okay with that. Like Pearl Jam, whose own bell curve of success was pretty swift, world domination wasn’t as important as making records on their own terms, confident that the “true fans” would stick around.
That said, there’s something just a little defiant about R.E.M. Live. A fairly straight reproduction of the final show from a tour leg promoting their most recent dud of an album two years earlier, it’s unique for being their first by-the-book live album. (It was also recorded in Dublin, where, at the time of Live’s release, they had just finished a few shows trying out new material. Obviously, the city holds a special place for them.)
Since Bill Berry’s retirement, the other three took to touring with a drummer and two additional members who could swap guitars and keyboards, allowing Mike Mills to concentrate on bass and harmonies. But besides being strict hired guns and not full-fledged band members, they don’t get in the way, merely filling out the sound where necessary. That’s demonstrated very well on the songs from Around The Sun, which are performed better onstage than they were for the album.
Two decades’ worth of material means they could cherry-pick from throughout their career. Oddly only one song each appears from Up and Reveal. Everything is played fairly straight, even “Drive”, here in its album arrangement as opposed to the heavier “road” version. Even if you’re sick of “Everybody Hurts”, which runs over six minutes here, it’s still pretty cool to hear the crowd singing along with every note. They do the same for “The Great Beyond”, proving just how loyal that fan base was. Mike Mills’ lead vocal on “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” shows that his strengths lie in harmony. The one rarity for the time was “I’m Gonna DJ”, exuding tons of fun.
R.E.M. Live is for fans only, but packaged for value with a DVD of the same show. The second disc is shorter than the first, but research shows that it consists of (most of) the encore portion, and thus leans on the hits. People not fond of the band will have a field day mocking the Stipe image on the cover, but that merely reinforces the defiant attitude the band came to exhibit.

R.E.M. R.E.M. Live (2007)—3

1 comment:

  1. It’s not as odd now as when it first appeared, that they released their first official live album from the “Around the Sun” tour. They were obviously trying to compensate for that album’s weaknesses. I agree that the songs sound much better live. They sound less boring when they’re scattered among other material, rather than playing one after another. The guitar is more prominent. “Electron Blue” is my favorite of the then-new songs.

    They do a pretty good job of balancing promoting the album, deep older cuts and hits. The only minus is that they went really short on the I.R.S. material. Perhaps, that stuff wasn’t as popular in Europe. "Cuyahoga" is a big highlight.

    So, it’s good enough, but the “..Olympia” album is tons better, not to mention archival releases of older shows.

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