Review Summary: Stipe and co. get down with the kids and take their live show to the city limits.
If one was pressed to describe the recent live recordings output from R.E.M., perhaps “anachronistic” may be the best applicable term. R.E.M. Live
, released in 2007, was recorded across two nights in Ireland during the band's 2005 world tour. The following live release, 2009's Live at the Olympia
, was also recorded in Ireland over a five-night residency at the titular Olympia Theatre in 2007. Now comes R.E.M. Live From Austin, TX
– released over two years since the band performed for the Austin City Limits music program. Why the two year gaps? Who knows? What one can be assured of, however, is no matter how long these performances are left on the back-burner, they lose none of their outstanding quality.
R.E.M. might be considerably more polished than their earlier touring days (as documented on the excellent Tourfilm
), but they remain an exciting, engaging live prospect regardless. No greater evidence is needed of this than when the band strolls onto the ACL stage and kicks into Accelerate
's opener “Living Well is the Best Revenge.” Mike Mills hammers through the thundering bassline, Bill Rieflin pounds the drums with the sheer force you might've expected out of his Revolting Cocks days, Michael Stipe can barely hold back his excitement from behind the mic stand...hell, even guitarist Peter Buck chucks in a bit of a rock jump every now and then. What's great about the “new” material on here – whether it's the slow-motion sway of “Houston” or the dynamic title track of Accelerate
– is that the five guys on stage performing it seem to really believe in and have great confidence in the songs. Unlike songs from 2004's Around the Sun
(none of which feature here), playing the new material isn't an obligation or a chore to perform on Live From Austin.
On the contrary: there's a lot of fun to be had with them.
Needless to say, it's the great renditions of old favourites that will appeal to most fans on the DVD. No “Everybody Hurts,” but de rigueur
performances of “Losing My Religion” and “Man on the Moon” are done with plenty of energy, even after all these years. More surprising inclusions from the band's 80s era, like “So. Central Rain” and “Fall On Me,” stand out as highlights of the entire set. Though the later might see Stipe's voice become a little shaky, the emotion simply cannot be extracted – and Mills' backing vocals remain as sweet as they ever have been in the live environment. The power of Stipe's voice is best displayed during “So. Central Rain”'s closing, in which he hangs the mic stand roughly half a metre from his mouth and howls out the final few notes. Even with considerably less amplification than the guitar, drums, keyboard and bass, the vocals resonate beautifully and make a sound louder than all the instruments combined. Definitely one of those concert “moments” that, despite translating beautifully to DVD, really would have been special to see in the flesh.
Near the end of the concert, Stipe picks out two young brothers from out of the audience, Simon and Elliott, to come up on stage. After finding out it's their first R.E.M. concert, Michael asks the two what they think. Simon, the younger of the two, blushes and responds with “...you're awesome!” No matter what level of R.E.M. fan you may be, there's scarce little doubt that you'll be inclined to agree with young Simon after viewing R.E.M. Live From Austin, TX