Admittedly I don’t write about major label bands on The Rock and Roll Report that often and that is mainly because they are more than adequately covered elsewhere. That being said, I am not dogmatic about it, especially as there are a number of bands signed to major labels in which I am a big fan (R.E.M., U2, Oasis, Pearl Jam, The Tragically Hip and Sloan just to mention a few).
I have been a huge fan of R.E.M. for years and in my mind they are a band who has managed to play the major label game to their advantage. I would certainly never challenge the artistic integrity of Peter Buck, Mike Mills or Michael Stipe (or retired drummer Bill Berry) so it is nice to see the boys from Athens, Georgia embark on a 5-day working rehearsal in Dublin, Ireland in preparation for their new CD. After having done some recording in Vancouver, they decamped to Dublin’s Olympia Theatre for five shows before the Irish faithful that wind up today. Besides whipping out some older and obscure tracks like Wolves Lower, 1,000,000 and Little America they unveiled 11 new tracks, some with unfinished lyrics but all rockin’ according to fan and press reports.
This working rehearsal idea is a great concept in my opinion as it allows a band like R.E.M., who really are not touring as extensively as younger bands to get some real feedback from their fans as well as giving them the chance to dust off the cobwebs and get back to basics. The cynical amongst you might grumble about having to pay to watch a band practice but that completely misses the point. If you had the chance to catch your favourite band in an intimate venue with the guarantee of hearing new material, would you not jump at the chance? I thought so.
One final thought about R.E.M. In the pantheon of my musical influences, Peter Buck has always loomed large. Not because of his abilities on any musical instrument, although there is plenty to admire there, but in his passionate love of rock and roll. Quite simply, the man has not come across a record he did not want to buy or a band he did not want to see live. The man oozes rock and roll through every pore of his body. With a massive and ever growing collection of CDs and vinyl, he quite simply cannot get enough of the music he loves. And when not touring with R.E.M. he is quite happy to be the sideman for numerous other artists, people like Robyn Hitchcock or Scott McCaughey with scarcely a hint of the rock star attitude that you will find from others of a similar stature. It is not only refreshing but inspiring to know that despite being in one of the biggest bands in the world the man remains a simple rock and roll fan.
Some may complain that bands like R.E.M. are “old and in the way” but I have always maintained that if you create music with integrity and purpose, you not only have the right to continue to play but the duty to follow your muse. Whether you are 19 or 49 it shouldn’t make one fucking ounce of difference.
I’m looking forward to their 15th CD as much as I did their second. Keep it up boys.