REM Live at the Olympia Review

Live. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

An apposite live companion to their best-of collections.

Mike Diver 2009

Two years ago REM released REM Live, featuring recordings from their performance at Dublin’s Point Theatre in 2005. It was a does-what-it-says-on-the-tin affair: REM, live, on CD (and DVD). Live at the Olympia is more of the same, essentially, even down to the country in question: like its predecessor, this was recorded in Ireland, albeit at the capital’s Olympia Theatre. Again: it’s exactly what it promises to be.

So why bother with another live album, released so soon after the last, and most likely captured before the same crowd? The reason here is purely down to the tracklisting – while REM Live focused on the Athens, Georgia band’s hit singles and best-selling albums, this collection is a partial exhumation of early material, the band delving back as far as their 1982 EP Chronic Town. As such this will serve as an entry point into REM’s expansive pre-Automatic for the People catalogue for many fans – there is only one song from Automatic…, out of 39, but an intentions-signalling five from both second album Reckoning and third Fables of the Reconstruction. There’s even a brace from 83’s debut long-player, Murmur.

In short, this is a celebration of the career of one of the greatest rock groups America has ever produced. It showcases their quality control wonderfully, picking selections from various eras which never seem out of place. While Drive is very much from the well-known camp, as it shakes to a close – via a Michael Stipe lyrical misstep: “Oh whoops!” – and leads to “very old song” Feeling Gravitys Pull, from Fables…, it doesn’t feel like the band has just rewound several years. They’re having too much fun, and there’s never the sense that they’re exposing their roots purely for the sake of it, as the crowd’s enthusiastic reception to relative unknowns is audible evidence of.

The sound quality is, as you’d expect given the band in question, exceptionally crisp, with post-production work coming from Jacknife Lee, on board for REM’s last studio album, 2008’s Accelerate. Eight songs from said collection make the Live at the Olympia cut, performed prior to their release of course, but such is the abundance of 1980s material that this has to be seen as a valuable reminder of REM’s impressive past as much as a document of their present. Think of it as an apposite companion to both their Eponymous and In Time best-of collections.

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