Music

R.E.M. Grow Up in Public on 'At the BBC'

Warner Bros. publicity photo for 'Green'

R.E.M. at the BBC features eight CDs and a DVD of material recorded live in Britain by R.E.M., who went from cult heroes to global superstars right before our eyes.

R.E.M. at the BBC
R.E.M.

Craft Recordings

19 October 2018

"Dear Santa. I've been good this year, so I'd like over 100 previously unreleased R.E.M. live recordings, please. But all from England. Oh and in non-chronological order…"

R.E.M. at the BBC is not for the faint-hearted. You need commitment and staying power to wade through eight CDs and a DVD's worth of tunes by a band who breathed their last, seven years ago. And if you listen carefully, you can hear the alt-rock nerds and record store owning, paisley underground apologists saying (just loud enough for everybody to hear) "I've had all this stuff on bootlegs for years." Well smartypants, you can swap your third-generation cassette copy of "R.E.M. Live, Nottingham Rock City 11 21 84" for a lovely clean digital copy. And a whole lot more besides.

The grande olde institution that is the BBC has had a lengthy relationship with R.E.M. which stretches back as far as November 1984, when it devoted an hour of prime time airspace to a band who had sold barely a handful of records in the UK. Whatever the reasons behind the decision to record the band as they toured the freezing shores of blighty on the back of their second album, we should be happy that this charming and energetic document has emerged. The band romp through their early repertoire like the over-excited teenagers they almost were. This is what you'll buy this collection for. The rest is gravy. But really tasty gravy.

We get to see and hear almost all the stages of R.E.M.'s woozy path to superstardom on At the BBC. From the alt-rock of the early 1980s to the polished, new millennium pop that they bowed out on, it's nearly all here. And warts and all. Although, in spite of having a slightly maverick approach to the live stage, they never fail to hit their marks on these recordings.

Unplugged you say? Well, there's plenty of that sort of thing here. Back in the 1990s, you couldn't walk a hundred yards in any direction and not hear some musicians desperately trying to promote their latest offerings by attempting to play them on unfamiliar, acoustic guitars, unwieldy acoustic basses and badly struck congas. R.E.M. however had decided to ditch the Rickenbacker guitars in favour of mandolins and dulcimers for their breakthrough album Out of Time and took to this unamplified world like a duck to water.

The first few tracks on this collection showcase this unadorned version of the band and it's rather beautiful. If you can get through their version of the Troggs' "Love is All Around" without smiling, then there's no hope for you. Elsewhere, you get an excellent live recording from the "Monster" tour highlighting the reverse of that coin – loud electric guitars and a pronounced stadium rock flirtation. Although heavy on the track listing for their then current album, the band dip into the back catalogue for an elegant and understated version of "Fall on Me". Four years later, the band are headlining the prestigious Glastonbury Festival and the BBC are there to document a triumphant performance, with the material from Up – their first album without founder member Bill Berry - sounding fresh and vital. They were without doubt, an outstanding live band.

The DVD which closes this sprawling collection is invaluable. It begins with a couple of songs from one of the UK's most loved and respected music magazine shows, The Old Grey Whistle Test where, Stipe, Berry, and Mills perform an acapella version of "Moon River", before ripping into a typically frenetic version of "Pretty Persuasion". Stipe sports a pre-Raphaelite hairdo and a suit he may have found in a ditch. For reasons known only to him, he whips out a harmonica for some off-key parping, which thankfully is mercifully brief. If you ever wanted to show an alien what college radio looked and sounded like in the early 1980s, this would more than suffice. As an aside, the harmonica does make a spectacular reappearance on the 2003 version of "Bad Day" on this collection. Stipe still can't play it, but that's probably not the point.

For the slightly more conservative R.E.M. fan (or those of you unwilling to spend the time or the cash on negotiating your way through hours of R.E.M. live material) there's a double CD, which bolts together a healthy selection of the archive. But if you've read this far, you're probably the kind of person that'll end up shelling out for the deluxe version of this thing.

R.E.M. came to symbolise the triumph of the underdog for a while. They stuck at their (initially) unfashionable, low key jangle until the rest of the world caught up with them. Their restlessness meant that they had a go at everything from folk-noir to grunge and all points in between -- not all of it was great, but there is a ton of great stuff here. It's time to retire those hissy bootlegs and remind yourself how great this band were. They took on Bon Jovi and almost won and for that alone, we should be thankful.

8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Film

In Amy Seimetz's 'She Dies Tomorrow', Death Is Neither Delusion Nor Denial

Amy Seimetz's She Dies Tomorrow makes one wonder, is it possible for cinema to authentically convey a dream, or like death, is it something beyond our control?

Music

The 10 Best Experimental Albums of 2015

Music of all kinds are tending toward a consciously experimental direction. Maybe we’re finally getting through to them.

Books

John Lewis, C.T. Vivian, and Their Fellow Freedom Riders Are Celebrated in 'Breach of Peace'

John Lewis and C.T. Vivian were titans of the Civil Rights struggle, but they are far from alone in fighting for change. Eric Etheridge's masterful then-and-now project, Breach of Peace, tells the stories of many of the Freedom Riders.

Music

Unwed Sailor's Johnathon Ford Discusses Their New Album and 20 Years of Music

Johnathon Ford has overseen Unwed Sailor for more than 20 years. The veteran musician shows no sign of letting up with the latest opus, Look Alive.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Jazz Trombonist Nick Finzer Creates a 'Cast of Characters'

Jazz trombonist Nick Finzer shines with his compositions on this mainstream jazz sextet release, Cast of Characters.

Music

Datura4 Travel Blues-Rock Roads on 'West Coast Highway Cosmic'

Australian rockers Datura4 take inspiration from the never-ending coastal landscape of their home country to deliver a well-grounded album between blues, hard rock, and psychedelia.

Books

Murder Is Most Factorial in 'Eighth Detective'

Mathematician Alex Pavesi's debut novel, The Eighth Detective, posits mathematical rules defining 'detective fiction'.

Music

Eyedress Sets Emotions Against Shoegaze Backdrops on 'Let's Skip to the Wedding'

Eyedress' Let's Skip to the Wedding is a jaggedly dreamy assemblage of sounds that's both temporally compact and imaginatively expansive, all wrapped in vintage shoegaze ephemera.

Film

Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.

Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.