R.E.M. finished its weeklong residency at Dublin´s Olympia Theatre last night (July 5) with a set that featured 11 new songs as well as older, much more obscure material, some of which hadn´t been played live in decades.
The band, which is about to record its new Warner Bros. album with Irish producer Garrett "Jackknife" Lee (U2, Snow Patrol) in Grouse Lodge Studios, Mullingar, Co Westmeath, played five concerts beginning June 30 to sell-out crowds of 1,200 each night.
But the backdrop on the stage behind the band declared "This Is Not a Show," and singer Michael Stipe -- looking dapper in a cream jacket, black jeans and a shirt and tie -- was quick to tell the crowd that the band was treating this series of gigs more as an experiment in road-testing new material in front of a live audience than as proper rock concerts.
Indeed, Stipe has yet to learn the words of the new songs by memory and so had to rely on his laptop (which was covered with a sticker inscribed with the word "impeach") for guidance.
The new songs were mostly upbeat rockers in the style of 1994´s "Monster." "Disguised" and "Mr. Richards" gave guitarists Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey a chance to rock out. But they also unveiled some slower, more contemplative tunes, such as "Houston," for which Mike Mills switched to organ and Buck switched to acoustic guitar. "Worst Joke Ever," "Horse to Water" and "Until the Day Is Done" also received an enthusiastic response.
But the best of the bunch was "On the Fly," a classic R.E.M. song on which Stipe´s soaring vocals were perfectly complemented by McCaughey´s wistful pedal steel guitar. Stipe actually declared it was in his top five songs he´s ever written.
The frontman also needed to read the lyrics of the old songs in the set from his computer, but it was worth it to hear such rare gems as "Gardening At Night," "Romance," "West of the Fields", "Pretty Persuasion," "Second Guessing" and "Auctioneer (Another Engine)," all of which date from the band´s pre-Warner Bros. days.