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Review

R.E.M.’s first ever live album worth the wait

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October 25, 2007

Is there anything R.E.M. can’t do? Their new live album (their first in their 20-plus year career) is a blast of energy, charm and a much needed kick in the teeth since the music industry started its slow decline. The double CD/DVD set comes down like a hand of God, full of wit and wisdom, showing what a real band can accomplish in an era where most music nowadays is pumped out like a septic system: untouched by humanity, full of shit and with bullet-like quickness to avoid the stink.

What makes a great band?  Great songs. Stewed together like a greatest hits record on steroids, R.E.M. Live packs its best guns. From mega-hits “Losing My Religion,” “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” to politically driven tunes “I Wanted to Be Wrong,” “Final Straw”, and less known, but essential listenings “The Ascent of Man,” “Electron Blue.”

Every song here is stocked with R.E.M.’s clever and primitive nature, and some, like “Orange Crush,” sound better than it did a decade ago, with an added over-driven, distorted guitar interlude never heard before, thanks to guitarist/visionary Peter Buck.

Mike Mills, the band’s bassist/keyboardist/vocalist brings the same melodic lines like always, simple and necessary.

As for Michael Stipe, one of leading figureheads in modern rock, he keeps the songs sounding familiar, but still throws in his trademark improvisational skills, often singing harmony while he lets the audience take the lead.

That said, any band currently touring or planning on it, should take note. There are ways to make a record, and there are ways to perform it. R.E.M. applies this well into their concert, knowing that it’s a group’s performing flair that makes a band great. There’s a sense of urgency, as though the band is being tested, that drives the guitars to fuzz out and scream at the end of a set, or how the drums echo beats well after the song is over.

Stipe shouts his words at times, like he’s trying to get a message out to someone, anyone, who will listen, as he yells in “Man On the Moon,” their closing song, “Are you having fun!?”  And if you’re not at that point, there’s something wrong with you.

Matthew Loosbrock is a student at UW-River Falls.