Sound: Ever since R.E.M.'s early days of rotation on modern rock radio stations across the country, the Athens, Georgia, band has been rapidly connecting with audiences much larger than the college crowd. Seeing the massive Dublin audience on the band's latest DVD/CD combo R.E.M. Live solidifies that musical achievement, and you get a pretty thorough collection of the band's material over the years. The whole thing is presented in a highly dramatic fashion, from vocalist Michael Stipe's painted-on black mask to the crazy camera angles used. The band has never sounded tighter and that in itself is an achievement. It's slightly disappointing, however, that the director obviously chose to make vocalist Michael Stipe the star of the show in pretty much every situation.
Recorded in Dublin back in February of 2005, R.E.M. Live is as much of an artistically visual endeavor as it is about the music. Shot with a multitude of frames, angles, and artsy concepts, the DVD at times feels quite like an extended music video. Despite all of the visual output, the music holds it's own throughout the 105-minute show. The concert includes many of the hits you might expect (The One I Love, Man In The Moon, and Everybody Hurts), with most sounding amazingly close to the original recording. Stipe's vocals never falter, while guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills' parts come through loud and clear. The bass actually comes through more than most concert recordings deliver these days, which is an unexpected surprise.
Some may be let down by the fact that arguably the band's most famous track is nowhere to be found. It's The End Of The World As We Know It is missing in action, but the song Bad Day is similar in a lot of ways and injects the show with an energy that is lacking in some moments. The other massive hit Everybody Hurts does make the cut and inspires an instant sing-along. It's still powerful, even if the highly enthusiastic audience does shave a little of the original sadness off of it.
Bassist Mike Mills gets a moment in the spotlight towards the end, at which point he takes lead vocals on Don't Go Back To Rockville. Mills actually wrote the song to his girlfriend in the '80s, so it's very cool to see Stipe hand over the mic for a song that obviously connects with Mills. While the bassist gets an A for effort, it's hard to compete with Stipe's intense, choreography-heavy performance. // 8
Content: You won't be getting anything besides the Dublin concert on R.E.M. Live, but that band did add in a double-CD if you would rather listen to the show than watch it. There are no bonuses or extras, which is somewhat disappointing, but there are 22 songs, and the performance itself if intense enough to keep you occupied. // 8
Production Quality: Visually the concert is a stunner, featuring every kind of camera shot you can imagine. At times it gets trippy and psychedelic (Boy In The Well), and other moments you get insane close-ups of Stipe's blinking eyes (Everybody Hurts). There are some cool ideas and the DVD does feel like a lengthy music video in a way. The director Blue Leach obviously put a lot of effort and time into R.E.M. Live, and it's definitely fascinating to watch. // 9
Overall Impression: For all of the impressive imagery in the DVD, the main disappointment is that Stipe gets so much more camera time than anyone else. He is a charismatic guy, but after you get shots of his full body, shoes, eyes, hands, and everything else, it can seem a bit excessive. Granted, his bandmates are fairly sedentary most of the time, but it still feels unbalanced.
Musically, the performance in Dublin will be a great addition to any R.E.M. fan's collection. While the laid-back style of the band might not click with everyone' musical taste, R.E.M. has had an impressive 25-plus years in the industry and the DVD offers a nice mix of both the new and the old. // 8