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Live At Ardgillan Castle, Dublin
In 2005, what is the point of REM? At times even they seem to be grasping for an answer. For nearly a decade now, the music of Stipe, Buck and Mills has told a story of wavering attention spans. Over that period, fans have cheered rousing, reflective echoes of previous glories – ‘Leaving New York’ might be their best stab at an unapologetic anthem since the mid 1990s – yet endured reams of disinterested dross also.
Ed Power, 01 Jul 2005
In 2005, what is the point of REM? At times even they seem to be grasping for an answer.
For nearly a decade now, the music of Stipe, Buck and Mills has told a story of wavering attention spans. Over that period, fans have cheered rousing, reflective echoes of previous glories – ‘Leaving New York’ might be their best stab at an unapologetic anthem since the mid 1990s – yet endured reams of disinterested dross also.
Last year’s Around The Sun felt like a nedir: the sound of three songwriters trying – and mostly failing – to remember why they cared about music in the first place.
Recently, though, there is a sense that REM have woken up to the parody they risked becoming. A brace of dates at Dublin’s Point last spring were fierce and frantic, corporate cash-ins delivered with the sweaty ferocity of a club gig.
The band’s singer, Michael Stipe, in particular, seemed to embrace the concerts like a combatant. Wealthy and somewhere beyond famous, he willed himself into the underdog’s role. The result was an REM disconnected from their later history, desperate suddenly to prove themselves. Fighting to show they are still relevant, REM scored a knock-out.
Tonight’s performance is, in contrast, a breeze. Festival season has arrived and the crowd’s good humour and tolerance may be taken for granted.
Framed by a crescent of sea and a cutsey faux-medieval country house, Ardgillan reminds you of a less inhuman Slane. It’s a place of subtle, unexpected beauty and REM are clearly charmed.
Stipe, it quickly becomes apparent, is switched to ‘on’ mode this evening. He arrives in lurid blue face-paint that lends him the exotic, dangerous, air of a carnival freak and transmits a skittish ebullience as he bounds about the stage.
The set, initially, is the equal to his cheerful mania: ‘What’s The Frequency Kenneth?’ skips where it might have plodded; ‘Animal’ reveals itself to be slyly anthemic; ‘Drive’ groans and judders, fat with unease.
Such intensity proves unsustainable. There are slouching forays into Around The Sun and a dreary triptych of songs to mark the 60th birthday of Burmese opposition leader, Aung San Suu Ky.
As Stipe props a portrait sized picture of Suu Ky against his mike-stand, there is a feeling of being harangued for wrongs for which you bear no responsibility and cannot possibly redress. Quit preaching, rich guy!
In the wings bassist Michael Mills and guitarist Peter Buck shuffle and glare at their shoes. Embarrassed? Bored? Itching to throttle their front-man?
With a balmy night stealing over Ardgillan, REM revert to the less dreary business of being the world’s biggest pop-rock combo.
A lilting ‘Imitation Of Life’ reminds us that they haven’t completely renounced their knack for a beguiling melody; ‘Orange Crush’ is nagging and taut; a closing ‘Man On The Moon’ rings out joyously and defiantly.
The creaky, creatively adrift REM of 2005 may be slipping towards a terminal irrelevance. Yet, in ragged bursts, they still blaze with off-kilter brilliance.