R.E.M. – Live At The Olympia

Well! Technically a rehearsal for the terrible live album R.E.M. Live, which is weird as heckfire, because this album is the best. A live album with freaking 39 songs? That’s Springsteenian!

But wait, it gets way better. The band is the fuck on top of their game – Stipe sounds lively, the backing vocals are on key, the drums are on top of the melodies, the guitars and bass guitar are mixed clearly and they KILL. It’s a joy to listen to in terms of timbre.

But wait, it gets way better. The guys play whatever the fuck they want, and, unusually for such a long-lived band of professionals, they felt like wonderful and sloppy takes on early material. The tone gets set right from the start, when they predictably start with the catchiest song off the latest album. Then, without a word, they jump into a random album track from their 25 year-old second album. Then they jump into another random album track from their 25 year-old second album. It’s way the hell unusual and great for an old band. They give the hardcore what they want, and in good humour. Seriously, who would’ve guessed they’d play a THREE HOUR set that’s heavy on 80s material? Not I! Any holy shit are these great songs. Like, almost all of them! There’s even a couple songs not available anywhere else – the boring Around The Sun-esque “On The Fly” and the decent Accelerate-esque “Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance”, which also features a cool title. it doesn’t hurt that Accelerate is a good album, since they play most of it, too.

Oh, and there’s no “Losing My Religion” or “Man On The Moon” here. This is a for us fans kind of show. Oh, the endless joys! Oh, the backing vocals on “Maps And Legends”! Sing, O Muse, of the singing of Buck’n’Stripes! And completely free of affectation!

Seriously I don’t know what got into R.E.M. on this wonderful night, but this is pretty much perfect. Stipey’s even in good humour! “We’re R.E.M. and this is what we do.” No it isn’t! You’re old! You play boring tracks off of Around The Sun! You don’t play fucking “Kohoutek” and “Circus Envy” and “Romance”! At least I don’t think you do. But on this album you do. That’s just lovely. There’s also the memorable line from Peter Buck that “there are no B-sides anymore, it’s all MP3s” after a brief discussion of whether or not “Man Sized Wreath” would be on the next album (Stipe was wrong; it was).

A solid nine. R.E.M. the best.

9 / 10

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