Wednesday, October 24, 2007

R.E.M. - Live


Download: R.E.M - "Cuyahoga" (Live In Dublin)
Download: R.E.M - "Losing My Religion" (Live In Dublin)

R.E.M
Live (Warner Bros., 2007)
Grade: C+

I had a hard time deciding what to say about R.E.M. Live. So I didn't say anything for almost a week. But I think I have it now, so here goes:

There are some major disappointments about this set. It's two CDs and a DVD, which is phenomenal. But there is just so much stuff from their R.E.M.'s most recent studio album, Around the Sun, on it that it's hard to get excited about. R.E.M. is a great, great live band – one of the few that I'll gladly pay 75 bucks to see. And they somewhat resuscitate the ATS material with faster, rockier arrangements, but honestly, nothing short of completely rebuilding that album can save the likes of "Electron Blue" and "I Wanted to be Wrong."

Aside from the weak material, the band sounds great. I can find no faults in old gems like "Cuyahoga." The rapport Michael Stipe has with the audience just adds to the intense emotional evocativeness of "Losing My Religion," and Mike Mills' and Peter Bucks' reservedly badass performances bring out the cool in "What's the Frequency, Kenneth." The trio radiates awesome on film. It's just too bad that songs off of ATS keep cropping up to interrupt the flow.

With how close to the nerve R.E.M. is capable of hitting, I'm constantly confused as to why they left out their most powerful and moving songs, such as "Nightswimming," "Camera" and "Find the River" in favor of superficial crap like "I'm Gonna DJ."

I think that's the best way to sum up my feelings, not just on this release, but also on R.E.M.'s current state. They pack a powerful punch, but, for some reason, they've put the gloves down recently. I don't know if its that they're trying to reach out to a wider audience or if they're just getting old, but they need to get back to a place where they're writing the songs that got them famous: earnest songs that don't try to be anything but snapshots out of the band's life. R.E.M. once rivaled U2 as the biggest alt-rock act in the world. It wasn't because they're albums were produced to hell and back or because they layered on the effects. It was because they were honest, passionate and a little bit enigmatic. I can see that band peeking out on this DVD, they just need to embrace it. R.E.M. is a band that rallied the disaffected and showed them a light in an alienating political climate. The stage is set for them to do that again, they just need to get out of their funk.

I still can't figure out why they picked this concert for release. This CD/DVD set has been built up massively as the FIRST EVER R.E.M. live CD. But instead of giving the fans footage and audio from this year's working rehearsals in Dublin, they give us a set from a Dublin show two years ago. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy to have this set, but the Dublin rehearsals are hot bootlegs, and fans have been waiting three years for a new album. Considering as the album is still some months off, and interest among the fan base is waning, it would have been a really smart move to put that concert on DVD.

So, if you're looking for a single word answer to whether or not R.E.M. Live is worth buying, my answer is nyeao. R.E.M. is a fun band to watch but there is kind of a lot of crap to wade through in this set. I guess I'd recommend it if you already have a hearty respect for the band and their legacy, but I think new fans will probably be a little turned off by it.

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(April Wright)

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