Remcrop MOJO spies at two nights of R.E.M.’s current run of live rehearsals at Dublin’s Olympia Theatre have returned full of praise for the band’s rediscovery of rock, guitars, vocal harmonies and, most importantly, good songs.

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“THIS IS NOT A SHOW” said the slogan projected behind the stage, but these were more, not less than shows.

The idea was that R.E.M. test new songs in front of friends over five nights before retreating to producer Garrett “Jacknife” Lee’s Dublin studio to record an 14th full studio album. The result was an informal vibe and uninhibited music making, the new songs largely based on Peter Buck’s Rickenbacker and sparkling with Stipe/Mills vocal harmonies. “We are R.E.M.,” announced Stipe on the Wednesday night, “and this is what we do when you’re not looking.”

MOJO heard at least five bona fide future classics. The churning psych-rock of Mr Richards (“Pay attention! Pay attention!” keened Stipe) stood out. Disguised had to be started twice on the Wednesday – Mills and Buck appeared to disagree as to whose fault it was – before revealing itself as a marvellously melodic glam rock animal. Until The Day Is Done takes a folk turn into Automatic For The People territory, and Horse To Water may be the band‘s most intense assault since Monster’s Circus Envy. MOJO’s spies were at loggerheads over On The Fly – what a Wednesday viewer thought brooding and magnificent in a Country Feedback vein was described on the strength of Thursday’s performance as tedious and overlong, with even Buck losing interest towards the end.

Other new songs included Living Well, Middle Distance, Houston, Man Sized Wreath (about “Lillian Hellman giving Dashiell Hammett a blowjob with a mouthful of snow”, apparently) and Accelerate.

The so-called “olive branch” to an audience otherwise treated as (albeit very willing) guinea pigs was the slew of fanbait songs from the back catalogue. Wednesday night [setlist below] saw particularly fine versions of Harbourcoat, Second Guessing, These Days, 1,000,000, Wolves, Lower and West Of The Fields, and the sense that this was R.E.M. putting the lacklustre Around The Sun behind them and reconnecting with what has made them great was palpable.

After the shows, a relaxed Buck mingled, revealing his dissatisfaction with Around The Sun (the headline of MOJO’s album review “Do Go Back To Rockville” appears to have been taken to heart) and his approval of the band’s new methodology. A smattering of celebrity gladhanders – Robyn Hitchcock, Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon and Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody – seemed to agree.

R.E.M. are a guitar band again. Thank ye gods for that.


For more on R.E.M.’s five-night stand, and see some great pictures, visit remhq.com/news.

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 01:50PM | Leave a Comment (14)