Thursday, March 13, 2008

R.E.M. Previews "Accelerate"

By Evan Rytlewski
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I fought the crowd to see R.E.M. last night, standing for over two hours before the band began playing. Even with my pretty excellent (and hard-earned) vantage, it probably wasn't worth all the effort.

R.E.M. was playing to promote their upcoming (and apparently pretty good) new album, Accelerate, slated to be one of the band�s hardest rocking albums, as per pre-release hype.

"We're going to be playing a lot of new songs tonight," Michael Stipe said. "The good news is that if you don't like them, they're all under two-and-a-half-minutes"

The new songs lived up to their billing. They were short and streamlined and a little rawnone of the wispy, overblown arrangements that have plagued the group for the past 10 years here. The songs sounded fine, and I'm sure they'll sound better when they're beefed up on the album, but they faded from memory as soon as the band finished playing them, and they all blurred together.

I guess I was hoping the band would promote their return-to-form album by revisiting more old material, but they mostly stuck to cuts from the new album and from recent albums. It wasn't until four songs into the set, when they broke into "Drive" from Automatic for the People that the crowd really erupted, and it wasn�t until they channeled 1986 for a driven take of "Fall on Me" that I really remembered why I used to love this band so much.

Stipe became more political and talkative as the set went on, and I began to grow restless. Since he seemed more inclined to play new classics than old classics (you know, the real ones), I ducked out after about an hour to see if I couldn't catch Shearwater instead.

The complete concert is posted on NPR's music page, so when I get a chance this weekend I'll tepidly stream the final half hour, hoping I don't hear anything that makes me regret my decision.

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