Release Date: Oct 27, 2009
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rock, Alternative, Live
"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.
Well, this is somewhat of a mammoth album. 39 songs stretching in at two and a half hours. If that isn’t enough, the concept itself is quite an odd one to take in; Michael Stipe’s first words are “This is not a show, This is not a show”. For those unaware of the format of the record, it is a public rehearsal that takes place over five nights in Dublin, debuting material from Accelerate before it came out as well as a big delve into their back catalogue.
Unlike most canonical, highly celebrated artists with a large catalog of albums, there is no generally accepted entry point to the R.E.M. discography. They don't have a Daydream Nation, a Bee Thousand, an Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), or a Thriller. The band has a large number of classic albums, and each is distinct enough to have its own passionate partisans and detractors.
Extended live lap through rarities and new ephemera Measured in raw commercial reach, R.E.M.’s appeal may be getting more “selective,” as the euphemism goes, but on this new live double-disc their edge feels recently sharpened. Staged across five nights in Dublin in advance of Accelerate, the set reels off sketches from the then-forthcoming album, including some that never ultimately made the cut. Juxtaposed with a subtle cherry-picking of their earlier work, it’s a coy but endearing alternative history of the band, who seem thoughtful curators.
If you still follow R.E.M. loyally, you might wonder why the band is putting out a new double CD/DVD live document a mere two years after the double CD/DVD R.E.M. Live. This one was even recorded in the same city (Dublin). Maybe Michael Stipe wants to erase that release - a dull 2005 tour stop ….