Interviews: Trio Return To Rock, Call On Classics

By Rodrigo Davies

R.E.M. finished their U.K. tour last night with a showcase of their biggest hits and underlined the heavier rock direction the band have taken with their latest album.

In an extended two hour set at Twickenham Stadium, the trio called on some of the loudest, rock-orientated tracks from their 28-year back catalogue, including “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?”, “Ignoreland” and “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It”.

By the band’s own admission, their fourteenth studio album, Accelerate, is an attempt to recapture the faster pace that the band had before the departure of drummer Bill Berry shortly before the recording of Up: “When Bill left the band we decided to explore some different ways of creating and writing songs,” bassist Mike Mills told 6 Music before the gig.

“We felt it was time to rock this one out.”

Quieter moments came from “Electrolite”, “Country Feedback” and “Perfect Circle”, taken from the band’s first album, Murmur. Tom Smith, frontman of support act Editors, was a young toddler when it was released.

On the night they had high praise for Editors and Guillemots, who were first on the bill. Mike Mills said: “It’s music done with passion and intelligence. It’s very nice to have bands that we want to listen to and watch.”

In the past R.E.M. has had the likes of Radiohead, Patti Smith and Sonic Youth as supports, so their choices are always well-watched. This year Modest Mouse and the National joined R.E.M. on their American tour dates.

Any suggestion that Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe are getting too old for live performances was emphatically quashed by Stipe’s energetic dancing and running around the stage, for which he has become well known.

Stipe also returned to the band’s tradition of political activism, taking the opportunity to denounce George W. Bush on stage and to briefly display a Barack Obama image on the stadium’s screens.

The set was packed with most of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Man on the Moon” and “Losing My Religion”.

Mills said that the band revel in playing some of their best-known tracks: “We don’t feel pressure to play anything in particular. We’re here to play music and leave everyone happy as much as possible.”

Mills said yesterday that he and Buck had been writing some new songs, and that their next album – their last on their current contract with Warner Brothers records – is “likely to be closer to Accelerate than Reveal,” adding, though, that it’s “too soon to tell.”

He said that the band hadn’t decided on whether they would sign a new contract with Warner Brothers or another label when the next album is completed.

“When this deal is over we’ll just take the temperature of the record business as it is and see what works best for us.”

Originally published on 31 August 2008 by BBC 6 Music

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