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Blue Leach
R.E.M. (Michael Stipe, Mike Mills, Peter Buck)
Writing Credits:

The fourteenth album from modern rocks most acclaimed band, a 2007 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is R.E.M.s first live album. Presented in a 2CD/1DVD package, R.E.M. Live documents performances in February 2005 at The Point indoor venue in Dublin, Ireland, a city that has become a second home to the band. With set list of nearly two hours, spanning the bands entire career, R.E.M. Live offers the greatest hits on stage. Directed by Blue Leach.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 102 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 10/16/07

• 2-CD Concert
• Booklet


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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R.E.M.: Live (2005)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 14, 2007)

If we look at the list of acts I probably should like but I don’t, REM would land a prominent place. Oh, I can’t say that I maintain active disdain for them, but I simply never could get into them.

Some of that may stem from my introduction to REM. Back around 1982, my high school friends become big fans of the band, so I was subjected to incessant proclamations of their greatness. This got old quickly and left me with a sour taste.

In addition, the guys in REM tend to come across as very arrogant in terms of their place in music history. If you listen to them speak about themselves, they can act like a) they invented rock and/or b) they perfected it. The manner in which they overrate themselves has also stuck in my craw.

But I suppose neither of these issues should affect the quality of the music itself, so I thought I’d give them another look via REM Live, a new concert presentation. Recorded in Dublin over two shows in February 2005 as they toured behind 2004’s Around the Sun, the DVD’s 22 songs cover the band’s career. From Sun, we find “Boy in the Well”, “Electron Blue”, “The Ascent of Man”, “Leaving New York”, “I Wanted to Be Wrong”, and “Final Straw”. “Bad Day” was a then-new track from 2003’s compilation In Time: The Best of REM 1988-2003, while 2001’s Reveal provides “Imitation of Life” and “Walk Unafraid” comes from 1998’s Up. 1996’s New Adventures in Hi-Fi gives us “So Fast, So Numb” and “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” and “I Took Your Name” are off of 1994’s Monster.

When we look at 1992’s Automatic for the People, we discover “Drive”, “Everybody Hurts” and “Man on the Moon”, while 1991’s hit Out of Time gives us “Losing My Religion”. “Orange Crush” pops up on 1988’s Green, while “The One I Love” comes from 1987’s Document. 1986’s Lifes Rich Pageant offers “Cuyahoga” and “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” emanates from 1984’s Reckoning. Finally, “The Great Beyond” is from the soundtrack to 1999’s Man on the Moon, and “I’m Gonna DJ” is a previously unreleased tune.

Like I said at the start, I’ve never counted myself as an REM fan. Live won’t change that, but I must admit I enjoyed it more than I anticipated. The concert includes a good selection of tunes that come across well in the live setting.

I like the show’s mix of old and new. To my surprise, I thought a lot of the more recent tracks worked as well – if not better than – the “classics”. That’s not a slam on the older tunes, as they’re usually pretty good. I don’t much care for “Everybody Hurts”, as its lyrics are a little too Free to Be You and Me for my liking. Also, “(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville” loses some of its appeal because it sounds a little too honky-tonk.

Otherwise the older songs fare quite well. “Orange Crush” is a particular fave, and I also rather like “Frequency” and “The One I Love”. Outside of the tracks I mentioned in the prior paragraph, I find little about which to grouse in terms of the old tunes.

And that was to be expected, as those songs long ago earned their status as REM classics. As I alluded, I took it as a bigger surprise that the newer numbers held up so well next to the “hits”. Indeed, as a less-than-knowledgeable REM person, I often found it tough to discern the old from the new. Often when long-established acts play concerts, we can easily tell the difference because the newer stuff marks a decline in quality.

That doesn’t happen here, as the new work blends seamlessly with the older tracks. I do admit I’m not wild about “Bad Day”, but that’s mainly because it sounds too much like a rewrite of “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”. It’s still a decent song; it just scores no points for originality. I rather like all the other newish tunes, though, and they help make Live a consistently enjoyable listen.

So how does it work from the visual point of view? Not nearly as well, as director “Blue Leach” makes the concert a nearly unwatchable mess. Imagine a 100-minute music video and that’s what you’ll find here. I can take the stylistic excesses of a four-minute video, but to have to suffer through 25 times that much quick-cutting and strange effects becomes very wearisome.

Shots often last barely a second or two, and other visual decisions exacerbate this distracting choice. I suppose REM need to maintain their edgy “alternative” image with an edgy and quirky concert video. That means that in addition to the rapid edits, we find lots of intentionally clumsy camerawork. There are many unfocused, jittery shots throughout the show as well as a plethora of video effects. Colors take the natural stage hues and manipulate them, and many video effects like streaks, blurs and double images alter the source shots. All of this adds up to a headache – literally, as my noggin began to throb about 20 minutes into this thing.

I’ve seen REM live; in fact, I attended a couple of their fall 2004 “Vote for Change” shows that occurred just a few months prior to these Irish concerts. That means I have an idea what they’re like on stage. While I don’t think they put on a great live show, I know that they can hold the audience’s attention without gimmicks or gewgaws. Michael Stipe has enough charisma to make him a quality frontman, and REM manages to put on a reasonably effective live presentation.

That fact makes the visual choices for the DVD more bothersome. If REM put on a dull show and needed some spice, I might better understand the stylistic decisions. I still wouldn’t agree with them, as they’d create distractions in any scenario, but at least I’d comprehend the desire to add some pizzazz to a pep-free act.

But REM don’t need it, and the DVD’s annoying visuals do nothing more than undermine the concert presentation. Occasionally we almost get a good look at the show. For instance, “The Ascent of Man” manages to remain reasonably sedate – at least compared to most of its brethren. However, the colors are atrocious, as the stage’s natural green lighting takes on a rather sickly tone. These Nausea Greens dominate much of the show, and I don’t know why. Yes, I can tell that some of the colors stem from the original performance, but I’m sure that they didn’t look this overwhelming and unpleasant in person.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m not now – and probably never will be – an REM fan. I like their music just fine but that’s about as far as my affection will ever go. Despite this lack of great interest, I think that REM Live presents a lot of good material – in terms of audio, at least. The musical performances seem quite good, but the director’s visual choices leave a lot to be desired. Those selections make this a problematic DVD and not one I’d care to watch again.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio A-/ Bonus B

REM Live appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The show presented an erratic picture due to various stylistic decisions and some other issues.

Sharpness usually looked fine, though all the visual effects often made it difficult to really tell. The editing usually kept shots so short that it became tough to judge definition. In general, the show looked pretty accurate, though wide shots tended to be somewhat fuzzy. I saw light jagged edges, but shimmering and edge enhancement weren’t a concern.

No unintentional source defects appeared. However, plenty of stylistic flaws showed up through the program. I noticed a lot of intentional grain as well as some other streaks and marks. Again, this were supposed to be there due to the director’s decisions.

Colors varied from desaturated to natural to oversaturated. Once again, the problems came from production decisions. The DVD exaggerated on-stage lighting, which meant that they often took over the image in an unnatural way. The hues looked fine within the stylistic parameters, I suppose.

Blacks were fine. They presented deep and firm tones throughout the show. Shadows were erratic based on the kind of shots we saw. Crowd bits tended to be a little dark and murky, but that was almost inevitable given the shooting conditions. Ultimately, I thought this was a decent representation of a flawed product.

At least the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of REM Live proved more successful. As one might expect of a concert, the soundfield stayed mostly anchored in the front. The forward channels offered appropriate stereo delineation and created a nice sense of the live stage. Stipe’s vocals remained logically placed in the center, while the various instruments spread well and distinctively across the front speakers. The surrounds reinforced those elements to a degree but mostly concentrated on crowd ambience.

Audio quality seemed solid. Vocals came across as warm and natural. They appeared unusually prominent, actually, as they got placed very forward in the mix. This might sound a little disconcerting but it worked fine for the track. The vocals didn’t overwhelm the rest of the track; they just appeared more direct than expected for a concert presentation.

Instrumental definition seemed quite good. Highs were clean and appropriately bright, while bass response seemed firm and rich. I found a lot to like about this excellent auditory presentation.

In terms of extras, we get nothing on the DVD itself. However, we do find a 2-CD concert with all 22 songs from the show. Most of the material comes on CD One, as it presents the concert’s first 17 tunes. The other five pop up on CD Two, which runs only about 21 minutes. I understand the choice to put the main set on one disc and the encore on the other, but I’m not wild about it just due to the awkwardness of such a short CD.

That choice aside, I think the CDs offer a good bonus. Yeah, some of us have burners that would allow for us to make our own CD copies of the concert, but it’s nice to have the ready-made product, especially when the whole set comes at a reasonable price. I wouldn’t want to pay much extra for the CDs, but I’m happy they’re here.

In addition to the CDs, the package includes an eight-page booklet. A simply piece, it just presents show and product credits.

While REM Live offers a good auditory representation of the band’s stage act circa 2005, the visual side of things disappoints. With tons of bad stylistic choices, it becomes borderline unwatchable much of the time. The DVD presents a decent transfer as well as very good audio and a nice bonus in the form of concert CDs. If you like REM, buy this one for the CDs and ignore the unappealing DVD presentation.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3333 Stars Number of Votes: 6
0 3:
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