I must say that R.E.M. is one of my favorite rock bands of all time and the finest one America gave us throughout the last twenty-five years. Their numerous credentials (Velvet Underground, Byrds, punk etc...) helped them to create a diversified music whose influence on contemporary rock is incalculable. From the enigmatic "Murmur" (1983) (my favorite album of them!) with its jangly guitars and mumbling vocals to their latest effort, the committed and overlooked "Around the Sun" (2004) to their magnum opus "Automatic for the People" (1992), the band has become mature and explored new musical territories sometimes with so-so results but usually with gripping amounts. Even Bill Berry's departure in 1997 didn't hamper their creative potential and they have a welcome down-to-earth behavior about their condition of superstar. They also have an active role in American politics and I wonder if what Michael Stipe says just before "Bad Day", here is an allusion to the Iraq war.
Die-hard fans (I am one of them) must have been overwhelmed with this live of 23 songs recorded on the 19th July 2003 in Germany. It is a terrific digest of a nearly flawless career which spreads over more than two decades. It comprises hits and favorites like "Losing my Religion", "the One I Love" or "Everybody Hurts" but also lesser known tracks from early albums such as "Maps and Legends" from "Fables of the Reconstruction" (1985), "Begin the Begin" from "Lifes Rich Pageant" (1986) and even a curio: "Permanent Vacation" written in 1980 and performed only twice from Michael Stipe's words! This is a fly-on-the-wall film and the director adapts her camera work according to the mood a song could convey. The band keeps the balance between pure rock songs and ballads and maintains a great proximity with the audience (a few songs of the concert were chosen by the members of the fan club. Michael Stipe is a buoyant entertainer, Peter Buck is a brilliant guitarist with jumps à la Pete Townshend while Mike Mills is a discreet but efficient bass player and occasional keyboardist. He works wonders with the keyboard on "At My Most Beautiful". The drummer is as competent as Bill Berry.
Nearly two-hour rapture, this is an unqualified must for any R.E.M. aficionado and it should also appeal to casual listeners. The concert also reminded me when I saw Michael Stipe and his men in concert in Paris on the 08th February 2005. Very nostalgic memories...
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