R.E.M. at Stubb's, SXSW, Wednesday, March 12: Review
(photo by Jaime Lees)
I'm not sure how anyone who saw this show could say that R.E.M. isn't a good live band. Caveat: This was my twelfth time seeing R.E.M. Translation: I'm a huge, dorky fan. However: The band is great live. Period. No contest. I've seen some crappy R.E.M. shows through the years, but I've also seen some amazing ones: Madison Square Garden after Gore lost the election in 2004, at an Indianapolis theater on that same tour, Cleveland 1995 Gund Arena.
Out of all the shows I've seen -- from the Monster tour onward -- this was by far the most fun I've ever seen the band have. Michael Stipe, Mike Mills and Peter Buck have trimmed the fat from their songs -- the oft--played "Walk Unafraid" for one -- and made them into lean, solid thrash-rock songs. Reckoning's hyper-jangle "Second Guessing" and its yelping cry of "Here we are!" felt touched by the fountain of youth, while "Auctioneer (Another Engine)" -- from 1985 -- sounded fresh and brisk (perhaps because drummer Bill Rieflin now feels like a true part of the band); on a joyous, uplifting "Fall On Me," Stipe hit the high notes on the final chorus, which he hasn't done in recent years. "The Great Beyond" was also shimmering and moving, as transcendent as "Imitation of Life" was celebratory.
The new songs, from the upcoming Accelerate, were mostly stellar. The opening one-two punch of "Living Well's The Best Revenge" and "Mansized Wreath" lived up to their raucous studio versions, while standout crescendo-rocker "Hollow Man" stands up to anything in the R.E.M. canon. The droning "Mr. Richards" dragged, while "Supernatural Superserious" was pleasant, if a bit cotton-candy fluffy.
Above all, even though this show wasn't a rehearsal -- and Stipe threw in plenty of political remarks and calls to arms -- the atmosphere was loose and relaxed; the band sang happy birthday to long-time associate Dewitt Burton and generally just bashed out a solid, fun show.