Live at the Olympia


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Live at the Olympia Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

"This is not a show," murmurs Michael Stipe at the start of Live at the Olympia and it's not quite misdirection. R.E.M.'s five-night residency at Dublin's Olympia in the summer of 2007 functioned as working rehearsals for their 14th album, Accelerate, with the band testing out each of the songs, exploring arrangements, finding breaking points, and pairing them with older songs that informed their back-to-basics move. As rehearsal, it paid off splendidly -- road-testing the material made it stronger, resulting in their best album in years -- but the audience was in for a real treat, with the band digging deep into their back catalog to play some of their best non-hit songs. R.E.M. leans heavily on Reckoning (so much so, an accompanying digital download EP contained nothing but material from that record), plays over half of Chronic Town, and a good chunk of Fables of the Reconstruction, pulling two songs a piece from Murmur and Lifes Rich Pageant, creating a set list that any longtime fan will find near ideal. Just as importantly, the band sounds completely engaged with the material, enjoying playing the songs again, with this energy in the process rescuing cuts from Reveal and Around the Sun, suggesting that the problem was with the fussy arrangements, and that the tunes needed to be played as rock & roll. And that is what R.E.M. is here -- a tighter, cleaner band than the scruffy renegades of the '80s, but still the same band, which is evident here in ways it never was on the perfectly fine R.E.M. Live. That was a production. This is rock & roll.

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