R.E.M. : R.E.M. Live

The first time I saw R.E.M. live in concert was during their 1989 worldwide Green Tour. Even though I was grounded every other weekend during my senior year at Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio, Texas, somehow I convinced my parents to let me go to the show. I had some classmates of mine buy me a ticket, eighth row seat for fifteen bucks. (The price of that same ticket today might go for $50 to $150)

I had seen Midnight Oil in a small club but this was my first official big rock concert and what a show it was. Three hours plus with multiple encores, which included Michael Stipe and Mike Mills singing an a cappella version of ” Moon River.” They played “We Walk” from Murmur, the cover of Pylon’s “Crazy” from Dead Letter Office and of course “The One I Love” from Document. If I had just seen this show it would have gone down as one of the best rock concert experiences ever but something else happened that night, after the show which changed my life, for the better, forever.

After the concert, my buddy George and I passed upon some groups of fans who were hanging out by the buses waiting to see any members of R.E.M. emerge. We saw a glimpse of geeky Mike Mills from the distance; this was before he transformed into the cool version of himself during the Monster years

Five minutes later out of the shadows, with a bottle of Jack Daniels under his arm, comes Michael Stipe. He was very short, a shy but sweet figure. I felt like I was dreaming as one of my heroes stood in front of my very eyes. I was the first one to speak as I we had a short conversation, a mini interview about Sting, whom I was a big fan of during those …Nothing Like The Sun days. I asked if he supported Sting’s campaign for Greenpeace because I had read some animosity towards Mr. Sumner, as these were the days when he was being lambasted in the press for his overexposure of his causes to save the earth. Stipe responded he supports anyone who does work for Greenpeace.

After a few minutes, Stipe refused to sign autographs but he did shake all of our hands. Michael was the perfect Southern Gentleman. As I went home, stayed up all night and listened to all my R.E.M. tapes. I wrote a letter to the editor of our home town paper about my experiences that night. A few weeks later my letter was printed. Even though I had been writing my personal Star Trek fan fiction since age seven, this was the first time I had seen my name in print. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to be a writer. That one night, going to a rock concert and meeting one of my heroes, changed my life.

This one moment went through my mind as I listened and watched the 2007 edition of R.E.M.’s Live CD and companion DVD. This live show was recorded in Dublin, Ireland home to R.E.M.’s musical compadres U2 during their Around the Sun tour. The set-list showcases many songs from that misunderstood album Around the Sun, but there are a few classic treats thrown in for us die hard fans.

The disc starts off with the Monster riff from “I Took Your Name.” An interesting choice of opening tracks that contains one of my favorite Stipe lines, “I don’t wanna be Iggy Pop but if that’s what it takes.” The release of this concert set reveals to the world that even though R.E.M is getting older, they’re far from being dinosaurs; these guys have aged like a Cabernet…er, one that can rock you off your seats, with Peter Buck’s timeless chord changes that ring truer than ever before on this stage in Dublin. R.E.M. keep the frequency cranked up during most of the show with the inclusion of “Orange Crush,” “Bad Day” and a killer version of “So Fast, So Numb” from New Adventures in Hi-Fi in the set.

Some surprises are the addition of the laid back, slower styled version of “Drive” from Automatic for the People. This one differs from the amped up live edition that they played on the Monster tour that was even featured on the Greenpeace compilation Alternative NRG. I particularly love the version of Life’s Rich Pageant‘s “Cuyahoga.” Even though the politico lyrics of “Let’s put our heads together and start a new country up” ring truer today, the lines “Take a picture here, take a souvenir,” mirror the release of the CD.

This is the first R.E.M. live disc in their history and for fans like myself, it’s been a long time coming. I would have loved to have heard a show from their heyday as a four piece powerhouse, but this new incarnation of the band, which includes former Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin, marks a new evolution of the band that I have grown up with since those days of Green and before.

I don’t love everything about R.E.M. Live, however. The DVD is very disappointing. Director Blue Leach attempts to modernize some of his quick action cuts for the young kids who weren’t even born when R.E.M. first became a band in Athens, Georgia circa 1980. Even though R.E.M. has evolved since then, they are not the stylish upstarts that deserve this kind of super gloss. R.E.M. has always been about substance over style, just listen to the mirrored chorus on “The One I LoveUnfortunately, the quick MTV style cuts that annoy me so much appear during the louder numbers like “I Took Your Name.” Leach does finally lay off of the jump cuts on the slower numbers, but by then I was reaching for a dose of Dramamine.

The DVD tries to recreate the R.E.M. live concert experience and, because of Leach’s ADD-style editing, fails. R.E.M.’s edition is a proper live document. I recommend shelving the DVD, listening to the CD and buying a ticket to see them sometime in 2008. The problem with live albums is that they try to capture the essence of a band on stage. Some records like Bob Marley’s 1975 Live album is one of the many classics by which concert albums are held up to. This one strives for that greatness but R.E.M. Live misses that high mark. Even so, this album is a worthy edition to your collection of R.E.M. albums.

If you’re a die hard R.E.M. fan you will want to pick up this Live CD for the inclusion of the never released “I’m Gonna DJ.” It’s a short urban rock blast that has Michael rapping, wanting to “DJ at the end of the world.” Another surprise gem is the Mike Mills lead vocal on countrified classic of Reckoning‘s “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville.” I love the way that the album ends with the now live staple and classic “Man on the Moon,” a song about reminiscing about the past, which is something I can’t help but do as I listen to this live document.

Similar Albums:
R.E.M. – Around the Sun
U2 – Rattle and Hum
Depeche Mode – 101

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