Enjoy Yourselves With No Regrets (Godfather GR270)
The Royal Albert Hall, London, England – March 24th, 2008: Intro., Living Well’s The Best Revenge, Accelerate, Drive, Man Sized Wreath, Electrolite, Houston, Hollow Man, Supernatural Superserious, Final Straw, Losing My Religion, The Great Beyond, I’m Gonna DJ, Horse To Water, Imitation Of Life
Rolling Stone, Milan, Italy – March 18th, 2008: Bad Day, Until The Day Is Done, Man On The Moon
Stubb’s, Austin, TX – March 12th, 2008: Second Guessing, Auctioneer (Another Engine), Mr. Richards
The bulk of this release contains the BBC Radio 2 broadcast of REM’s special show at the Royal Albert Hall. This is the first time the band ever played there and were supported by Robyn Hitchcock, Foals & Duke Spirit. This was scheduled to celebrate the sixtieth anniverary of London’s Institute Of Contemporary Arts, a registered charity. Being sourced from the radio makes this a prefectly balanced and powerful recording. A review of the Royal Albert Hall show, written by Mark Reed for The Final Word, claims:
“One thing you can count on REM doing, when they release an album, is to play a ridiculously small venue in London that you cannot get into. Despite having a road-ready band at the release of their last few albums, REM have chosen to premiere the record at such demand pleasing venues as the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, a lottery-only show at Trafalgar Square, a 350 capacity Victorian Ballroom, a Church, and this time around, headlining a fundraiser for the ICA at the Albert Hall. Despite being a rather large 6,000 seater Victorian concert hall – and my tickets being approximately 100 feet in the air – behind me, there’s still people talking with awe at the exclusivity of the show. We’ll Never See Them Anywhere So Small Again, they mutter, whilst being 90 feet in the air.
“I swear, sometimes, some people’s priorities are deeply broken. It’s akin to Paul McCartney’s ‘limited-edition’ Russian Rock LP : limited to half a million copies. Despite all this, the new look REM – shorn to five people, and dispensing with the multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow (which limits the palette of their sound, and the choice of songs, considerably) – head up a bill that sees their set shrunk to a mere 80 minutes in length. Since most tickets are £55, REM’s 16 song set works out at about £3.43 per person (or a gross of around £21,000 per song) : not great value at all.
“Being only the third official public performance of the band’s ‘Accelerate’ shows, you could expect the band to be tentative or perhaps even nervous. Instead, REM present a headstrong, and human, performance. Backed up by the versatile, solid Bill Rieflin on drums – a worthy successor to the retired Bill Berry – the band offer a fiercely uncompromising set. For the first time in their career, the band neglect to play one single song from the IRS Years or even 1989‘s fabulous ‘Green’, with their history stretching only as far back as ‘Losing My Religion’. To an extent this is a pleasing attempt to eschew the old warhorses – I wish U2 had the balls to ditch ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ and ‘Pride’ from their sets – but also an act of perversity that overlooks their body of work.
“With their 14th LP ‘Accelerate’ not yet in the shops, the bands decision to then make more than half their set of unreleased stuff is both commendable and confusing. At this stage in their careers, for example, The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney were, and are, providing history lessons, karaoke tribute bands to themselves of shrinking artistic relevancy, whilst here and now, REM are striking forth a bold new agenda. The new material, opening with a fan-pleasing double punch of ‘Living Well Is The Best Revenge’ and ‘Accelerate’, seems designed to evoke the long lost joys of arpeggios and racing rhythms last seen on 1987’s ‘Document’, whilst also contemporary and modern. Unlike previous shows, the band also seem to enjoy premiering this stuff. The scissor-kicks from the 50 something Peter Buck make a welcome return, as he preens and poses and loses himself in the sheer joy of playing. Michael Stipe meanwhile, having self-confessedly not quite ‘got his tour legs’ yet, acts in an impersonation of a rock star, strikes a pose, and has yet to grow the stage persona that he develops over his other tours as a second skin or a hide. Here, he’s almost artistically naked – and none more so than during the encore when he monologues about the venue and even gets Peter Buck to utter a word or two on stage for the first time in his life.
“Fan consensus on the show is fiercely contested : half of the pundits seem to opine that it was a privilege to see the band in such a small venue. The other half seem, quite rightly, fairly upset at the £55 ticket price, the relative brevity of their set (an hour shorter than most REM shows), and the perverse setlist. Aside from this, there’s no denying that the performance is tailored to the BBC Radio 2 audience listening at home around their wireless radios, with most of the new album and some weighty hits to keep most people pleased. Sonically, the band sound and look huge and ambitious : not quite the parody of a stadium act that they were on the ‘Monster’ tour, and surprisingly, not one song from ‘Monster’ (the nearest cousin to ‘Accelerate’) is played despite the spiritual kinship between records. Instead the five piece roar and pirouette and preen like a band that has fallen in love with feedback and guitars after ten years in a supposed artistic wilderness.
“Unfortunately, thanks to an over-running indulgence from The Duke Spirit (who are, roughly the bastard tuneless offspring of the Jesus And Mary Chain and The Velvet Underground), REM don’t make it to the stage until late, and then, of all things, finish 8 minutes early. By my estimations, they shaved 12 minutes off their scheduled 90 minute set : and that’s not taking into account a 10 minute monologue which was charming but frustrating. Especially when the band returned for an encore, Michael Stipe claimed ‘Since we’re not on the radio, we can do what we like’, before playing a new album track and two of their biggest hit singles. And not one song born before 1991.
“Nonetheless, when the band were on stage and performing, they were both compelling and dedicated : a tight and cohesive unit that uncoiled these new, fierce songs with the passion of teenagers and the lyrical strength that only experience can provide. Even ‘The Final Straw’, taken from the bands creative low-watermark of ‘Around The Sun’, is dispatched with a fluid passion and a determination that shows that even then, the band still had the passion and protest that makes their work both out of time and yet utterly of the moment. The main crux of the set is drawn to a close with a avalanche of new material, including the wonderful ‘Horse To Water’ and the spirited ‘I’m Gonna DJ’. By the time the show reaches it’s end, some 79 minutes after it began, and 16 short songs later, one cannot help but feel a little cheated by the brevity of the set, the determinedly modern set stuffed with new material, and the almost staid atmosphere of the venue itself. That said, REM are no mere flash in the pan, and ‘Accelerate’ no artistic misfire : the band are clearly passionate about their art and creating vital and strong material at this autumn period of their career for which even the most stubborn and fair-weather fan cannot help but applaud. Tonight was a new chapter in their new adventures in hi-fi, and REM deserve their accolades for never ceasing their quest to find new areas, explore new territories, and find new stories to tell. Long may it carry on.”