R.E.M. - Live
Release Date: October 16, 2007
Record Label: Warner Bros.
Live albums are extremely tough creatures to love. While the vast majority of the species serve little purpose than to cash in during holiday seasons while highlighting minimal amounts of performing nuance, there are indeed still exceptions to each and every rule. When I saw R.E.M. for the first and only time about six years ago, it was not just a sublime experience – it was religion (pun sort of intended). And to this day, after all of the hundreds of shows that I have been to, it never ceases to amaze me that the most dynamic, charismatic, and magnetic frontman I have ever witnessed in craft is Michael Stipe, bar none. That a man just over the crest of 40 (at the time) could so swiftly outmaneuver all the twentysomethings I had come to observe onstage was no small feat, and the lingering memories of that night certainly seemed like persuasion enough to cast off my boycott of all things live album-related.
As a 2 CD, 1 DVD package, R.E.M.'s Live is undoubtedly one of the more substantial musical packages that you can purchase this year. And in short, the work does a fine job of accomplishing what it sets out to do. At a time when R.E.M. is recovering from the gaffe of Around the Sun to gear up for the release of their new album sometime next year, fans both new and old are in need of affirmation as to why they have so fervently worshipped these rock icons for decades on end.
The audio portion of the compilation is exactly what live albums should be – it is a showcase of the tight musicianship that has become synonymous with R.E.M.’s stage performance over time. The mix is perfect, tucking in Buck and Mills’ contributions neatly behind the bombast of Stipe’s arresting vocal delivery. As he belts out the words to his group’s jams, it is easy to envision the cue-balled legend wiggling and gyrating around the stage in kind, leaving sets of eyes glued and plenty of jaws on the floor. Sonically, there are few shortcomings with the band’s overall performance, if any, but this is not to say that Live is a perfect album by any stretch.
Interestingly enough, the setlist on R.E.M.’s first-ever live album includes a confounding amount of new-ish material. Strange not only since the post-Berry material has been decidedly lackluster, but also since the people shelling out the coin to see the band live are likely longtime die-hard fans looking to hear tracks from the late ‘80s/early ‘90s rather than those from Up, Reveal, Around the Sun and such.
Even with whatever objections listeners might have, R.E.M. still plays a fair smattering of their big hits that will quell hunger pangs from different subsets of fans. The early inclusion of an amped-up “So Fast, So Numb” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi sets a promising forward pace for the record, while “The Great Beyond” will please even the most casual of fans. It is nice to find “Imitation of Life” of the setlist as well (perhaps the last great song the band has written), but Stipe lulls into a deadpan chorus delivery that almost neuters the songs of its triumphant hook. Slip-ups like this, though, are easily forgotten in the rush of goosebumps you will get from hearing the group’s live renditions of “Everybody Hurts” and “Losing My Religion” – arguably two of the best songs ever written by a band of our time. Hearing the crowd belt out to “Hurts” conjures up images of a sea of lighters held high, while the emotional waver in Stipe’s vocals is so undeniably transcendent and gorgeous. Likewise, the riotous screams at the outset of “Religion” illustrate just how timeless a vehicle that tune really is – a sentiment that actually encapsulated R.E.M. as a band quite well in turn.
While these defining moments are impossible to discount in their emotional heft, it is still unfortunate that we could not still have more of them. When a band has as expansive of a catalog as R.E.M. does, it is impossible to include everything that fans want to hear. But really, who wouldn’t want to hear at least more of Monster, Automatic for the People, and Out of Time? At least those options would keep the band from having to go too far back into their archives. Overall, it doesn’t kill the effectiveness and reach of the work here, but it indeed softens its punch.
So, in summary, if you are either a career-long fan of R.E.M.’s work, and you think the band can do no wrong, then you likely do not need a review to tell you to pick this up. But if you are a fringe-fan who has been wondering what all the hype is about with a band like this, you should pick this up and get some education. Listen, watch, and learn about one of the most enduring acts in rock music’s history.
ok, you got a point. but maybe they don't do something really special (like playing a dozen notes each second), but they are just amazing muscians. the guitar sound, the songs,... it all sounds simple, but believe me: it's very difficult. sorry, i just think it's an amazing band, but i understand your opinion.
I haven't heard this, and don't really plan to, but Reckoning, Document, Murmur, Out of Time, and Automatic for the People are all fantastic. So many people I know hate on R.E.M. which is a shame 'cause they make some fine tunes.
are you the same deadfuck that posted your script online, because if you are my girlfriend and my friends thank you a thousand times over for making the worst movie out of the worst script ever. Seriously, it turned out so hilarious, we watch it all the time.
R.E.M. basically created the genre of alternative with genre bending into country, rock and punk. Micheal Stripe lyrically remains at the top of the list for music ever.