Austin City Limits
Before we get into R.E.M.'s performance on Austin City Limits, let's put my opinions and ramblings into a little bit of perspective.I am 31 years old. When I was a freshman in high school, R.E.M's Out of Time came out. This was also the year that Nirvana's Nevermind was released, Pearl Jam's Ten, U2's Achtung Baby and Sonic Youth's Dirty (well, that came out in 1992, but close enough). What a collection, right? Even as my musical tastes have grown in all sorts of strange directions, I can't deny that this batch of records defined the type of music fan that I continue to be.
The second concert I ever attended was R.E.M. at Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1995. I had just graduated high school and the band was out promoting Monster, one of my favorite albums they put out and one of the favorite albums for people to fill up used CD bins across the country. I think at this point you can buy Monster for half a penny just about anywhere in the world.
Since that show, I've seen the band three other times live, including a taping of Conan O'Brien. I missed them at SXSW this year because the line was too long and there was 5,000 other things going on, and I still sort of regret this. And finally, as I write this blog post, I am about 14 hours and 30 minutes away from winning an eBay auction of Automatic for the People on vinyl (please don't outbid me). So there you go, now you sort of know where I'm coming from with this band.
The first thing you should know about watching R.E.M.'s Austin City Limits is that 9 of the 14 songs are from the band's new album, Accelerate. Don't be sad about this, though, people. If you haven't heard the record yet, I'm happy to report that it's GOOD. After a few lukewarm releases (Up, Around the Sun), I was ready to put them in the category of bands that I loved their early work but have no interest in hearing new material. But with Accelerate, the band has found proper footing again and are making interesting music that is worth more than a casual listen. And hearing the textures of the songs in a live setting has only made me like them more.
There are points in the set where Michael Stipe and company genuinely rock, and it's a good thing to see. On top of that, it looks like they're actually having fun playing! It's the easiest way to connect with an audience, yet a lot of today's bands like to do a show as if each note they hit just took a little piece of their soul.
With a show that's only an hour, it's easy to just play the hits and be done with it. Instead, R.E.M. made some interesting choices with their back catalog. For example, "Electrolite" from the underrated New Adventures in Hi-Fi has never sounded better. It's one of my favorite songs and both a surprise and a delight to hear live.
I won't ruin the rest of the setlist for you, you'll have to see it yourself. You'll be glad you did.