80s R.E.M. and “unintentionally hilarious” don’t usually go together, so it’s a real treat to hear this ridiculous live show wherein whoever produced this album decided to make R.E.M. sound as 80s as possible.
See, R.E.M. were not a goddamned hair metal band. Not even close, so to hear them produced like they were recording ‘Appetite For Destruction’ inexplicably is to realize a) The value of production, because these songs suck now, and b) Just how terrible the 80s really were. Flat, echoey, way-too-loud drums, arena-rock guitars, bass made into an indistinguishable glut of low-frequency humming…it’s comically awful. And it’s evident from the very first note.
The band, for their part, plays along by getting all arena-rockin’ and kicking up the tempos slightly and throwing in some out of place yelling. This is recorded in-between Reckoning and Fables of the Reconstruction, so the slate is filled with the same intelligent, artsy songs as any live show from this period, but the songs sound like shitty songs now. God, do those “I’m sorry”s on “So. Central Rain” sound whiny now! The crowd, for their part, claps blandly after every butchered song. There’s a cover of ‘So You Wanna Be A Rock’N’Roll Star” that you can’t find elsewhere, which is funny, because here they DO sound like they were trying to be what the early 80s considered “rock’n’roll” stars, but this sounds more like a jumped-up Huey Lewis and the News than it does like R.E.M., aside from all the R.E.M. songs.
Plus, the band laughs it up by posing like superserious Norse Gods on the little cover I have! They all have long hair and are staring off into the distance, about to spar with Loki! Funny stuff, especially when you consider that Peter Buck used to look a lot like Mark Hamill. This whole album is bizarre and I want to forget it ever existed now.