Reviewed by Michael Bertin, Fri., March 21, 2008
R.E.M.Stubb's, Wednesday, March 12
Since 1988's Green or Automatic for the People four years later, the quality of R.E.M.'s live shows has been more or less inversely proportional to the quality of the accompanying albums. The good news is that R.E.M.'s first studio release in four years, Accelerate, is a return to the edgier sounds that made the Athens, Ga., quartet a signature act in American rock. The bad news doesn't need to be spelled out if you know the meaning of "inverse." And while R.E.M. was in deep sleep, another generation of bands has seized the stage. So, for a band that wants to re-establish itself as a cornerstone voice, R.E.M. had a lot riding on its SXSW appearance. Calling the response to the group's attempt at being relevant again "uneven" might be erring on the side of charity; the new material – 10 songs from the set were from the April 1 release – sounded sharp but failed to resonate with the audience. Older material varied from sluggish ("Second Guessing") to stellar (closer "Man on the Moon"), but even when the band was "on," the only person who played with any consistent visible joy was sideman Scott McCaughey. The most telling moment of the show was when the band left the stage. There was no thunderous applause, no wild cheers. None of the audience left, but then nobody seemed to care if the band came back out for an encore or not.