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39 Reasons To Be Happy: The True Live R.E.M. Experience

Several weeks ago, R.E.M. released a teaser EP of four songs the band played during their time in Dublin, Ireland in 2007. I have been listening to this performance in relation to ‘LIVE’, R.E.M.’s rookie entry into the concert album foray.  The first thing that I have noticed about the songs that were played, are their intimacy. We do not hear the emptiness of the concert venue but the thick nasaly voice of Michael Stipe as he serenades the paying audience with Mike Mills playing a mean bass and adding the essential backup vocals and Peter Buck, janglying his way to heaven.

R.E.M.’s release of a double CD set to feature all of the unique songs played by R.E.M. on their 5 day stunt in Dublin.

This should be one of those sets that satisfies the diehards, wanting to hear some of the early rarely played nuggets of R.E.M. in an intimate setting and the latter fans who could still convince their cat that R.E.M. is as good if not better than they have ever been.

Of course there might be that third group out there, a small band of rebels that would not be satisfied unless all the songs that were played on the 5 nights were released. As much as this completist would savor the taste of a super mega boxed set, the fact they are putting together a “Best Of” from those evenings is much more suitable in today’s climate.

As a fan, I am still a little out of breath that the band chose to include each and every unique song on a release. Who would have thought that a major release could contain both ‘Circus Envy’ and ‘Kohoutek’. If you went to the races, this is what you call a longshot, This boxed set is still a dream in a 27 year olds bedroom as he tries to mimic Peter Bucks guitar strumming on a video on YouTube.

The 39 Songs are the 39 Blessings of a band that tried in this case to surprise themselves and their fans, a necessity to mix it up. In the corporate environment, we are reminded of the processes and the ‘Well this is the way that we have always done it!’. The question is ‘Why’?

As I sat through a corporate event a couple weeks ago, I thought of all the moments that we live our lives, as if our days are processes, whether it is getting ready in the morning, cooking dinner or putting the kids to sleep. We find something that works and stick with it, however, the elements within that process still evolve.

The process for R.E.M. was changing the way that they do business. Unlike the days when the band was playing small clubs, as their popularity grew their penchant to stick to the script became even greater. This 5 night rehearsal stint was set up not just to perform some of their newest songs but their oldest as well, dusting off gems such as Harborcoat, Letter Never Sent and Carnival of Sorts. 

The new discs won’t shed any of the newer songs either, providing pristine copies of many tunes from Accelerate such as Mr. Richards and Living Well is the Best Revenge. They also chose to put on this disc, two new songs that never made the album: ‘On the Fly’, a remnant of the ‘Around the Sun’ days as well as ‘Staring Down the Barrel of the Middle Distance’, a song that would feel really comfortable on the Accelerate but probably lost it’s space due to the conciseness of the disc.

Where I think this live compilation could help an album like ‘Accelerate’ is give some longtime fans the ability to hear the ‘Accelerate’ songs in an old school environment. Maybe it is a reminder that the band has never changed, choosing to reacquaint fans in a more suitable manner.

In the case of the music industry, pundits would argue that the industry must find a way to change it’s business model and process. In the case of R.E.M. it must have been the need to not have to register another R.E.M. website. has found it’s way back into the mix for a third time, changing its format for this release. If you visit the site you can check out some sample songs such as Driver 8 and Harborcoat as well as leave your thoughts and opinions of the songs that are on the discs.

I have in the past made some comments about the live material and R.E.M.’s need to explore the idea of releasing live music. As we have seen these releases make their way into the hands of eager fans, a steady improvement of shows have been offered. 

While their have been some bright spots, for the most part, R.E.M. has fumbled it’s way through the 21st century. The band is still trying to find it’s way without Bill Berry and I have always believed that the band never felt all that comfortable in the spotlight. Over the years they have, at times, shed their idealism, no longer live in each other’s pockets and have found other interests beyond making music together. As a fan I felt that ‘Accelerate’ was the album that turned the corner from that free fall.

What I hope that these 39 songs are is not just about making a profit but finding the examples whereby the band can try to evolve on their next album. This should not just be an experiment but incorporate this on their next album and possibly expand it some.

List of Songs
1            Living Well is the Best Revenge
2            Second Guessing
3            Letter Never Sent
4            Staring Down the Barrel of the Middle Distance
5            Disturbance at the Heron House
6            Mr. Richards
7            Houston
8            New Test Leper
9            Cuyahoga
10            Electrolite
11            Man-Sized Wreath
12            So. Central Rain
13            On The Fly
14            Maps and Legends
15            Sitting Still
16            Driver 8
17            Horse to Water
18            I'm Gonna DJ
19            Circus Envy
20            These Days
21            Drive
22            Feeling Gravitys Pull
23            Until the Day is Done
24            Accelerate
25            Auctioneer
26            Little America
27            1,000,000
28            Disguised
29            The Worst Joke Ever
30            Welcome to the Occupation
31            Carnival of Sorts
32            Harborcoat
33            Wolves, Lower
34            I've Been High
35            Kohoutek
36            West of the Fields
37            Pretty Persuasion
38            Romance
39            Gardening at Night