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R.E.M.: Live At The Olympia

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R.E.M.

Album: Live At The Olympia
Label: Warner Bros.

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In 2007, R.E.M. convened at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin for a five-night residency that doubled as rehearsals for its 2008 album Accelerate. In keeping with the plan to change course after the dreary, directionless Around The Sun, R.E.M. played a bunch of the songs that would wind up on the new album—primarily loud, punchy rockers—alongside deep cuts. The double-disc Live At The Olympia contains 39 songs, which makes the record almost too big and unwieldy to listen to in one sitting. But devout R.E.M. fans should be tickled by the set list, which is largely devoid of overplayed hits like “Man On The Moon” and “Losing My Religion.” Leaning heavy on the rawer end of the discography (the record includes a version of Monster’s “Circus Envy,” for heaven’s sake), the members of R.E.M. link the musicians they used to be with the musicians they’ve become, showing how vibrating electric guitar, bouncy bass, swift tempos, and evocative lyrics have been fundamental to their approach since Chronic Town (represented here by four songs), even if the use of those tools has evolved. Also a constant: Michael Stipe, who’s become such a strong vocalist and commanding entertainer that he can make even R.E.M’s B-material sound vivid and exciting. Though it isn’t a concept album, Live At The Olympia does tell a story about the remarkable staying power of one of the best rock bands of the past 30 years.