The fine folks over at NPR are streaming the entirety of R.E.M.’s new album, Live at the Olympia. Stop whatever you’re doing, click on that link, and listen to it.
I first got introduced to R.E.M. with Green. I happened to stumble across the Michigan State University student radio station, Impact 89, which changed everything. It was on that station, late one night, that I heard R.E.M. The first R.E.M. song that I remember hearing was "World Leader Pretend". It made me sit up and pay attention. I had to have that album, and I discovered that “World Leader Pretend” was accompanied by more songs that also made me sit up and pay attention. I learned a lot about the power of music from that album.
I didn’t get to see R.E.M. on the Green tour, and they didn’t tour behind Out of Time, so my first time seeing them was in 1995 on the Monster tour. I caught the three closing shows of that tour in Atlanta, and it was glorious. Monster was a great album, and they were road-testing the songs on what would become New Adventures in Hi-Fi, so the tour was tight. Those shows completely cemented my opinion that they were one of the best bands of all time, an opinion that I’ve never let go.
NPR says that this album isn’t so much a live album as it is a gift to their fans. This fan is absolutely enthralled. They’ve done a deep dive into their back catalogue, dusting off songs that they haven’t played in ages. ”Welcome to the Occupation” has a slightly-nervous edge to it that works so well. I can’t remember the last time I listened to “Letter Never Sent”, but this version makes me want to find every release of that song to hear its evolution because it’s so perfect here.
There’s 39 songs here, and I haven’t been able to stop listening to them since I noticed the streaming available on NPR. I first started off by cherry-picking some favourites like “So. Central Rain” and “Gardening at Night”, and then realised that I was enjoying it too much to not listen to the whole thing. So I listened to it, and then again, and then I paused for long enough to go order the special edition box set (4 LPs, 2 CDs, 1 DVD) and renew my fanclub membership. I had seen the special edition earlier, but didn’t pull the trigger because I wasn’t sure if I really needed it. Listening to this album today, there was no longer any question at all as to whether it was a requirement.