>Album Review: "Live At The Olympia" by R.E.M.

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pretty sure Stipe stopped wearing that stupid facepaint for these shows

Oh hey! Today is Thanksgiving in these United States! I hope most of you have enjoyed your turkey and stuffing and gravy and naptime. To celebrate this holiday of thanks I will go ahead and write about a band that I have written about many times before and has nothing to do with Thanksgiving: R.E.M.

R.E.M. are one of my favorite bands ever. I have made this pretty obvious in the past, but it is worth repeating. They are a band that cuts me deep, you see. So when I heard they were putting out a double-disc live album, one that was getting more-than-decent reviews, I figured it was worth a shot. And not only was I not disappointed – I was enthralled. I mean, I expected quality, but I did not expect this much quality. For a huge R.E.M. fan like myself, it is a special treat.

Perhaps some context is necessary. R.E.M., surprisingly enough, have issued only two official live albums in their entire 25+ year existence – and they’ve both been released only in the past couple years. The first one, R.E.M. Live, came out in ’07 and focused on a few 2005 shows in support of Around the Sun, quite possibly the least exciting R.E.M. album ever released. And the tracklisting bore this out: not only was Sun the most represented album there with a whopping six tracks, but most of the other songs were the usual, predictable hits (a little “Losing My Religion” here, a little “Everybody Hurts” there) and questionable album cuts (like “So Fast So Numb,” a decent but middling selection from the otherwise lovely New Adventures In Hi Fi, and “I Took Your Name” from the always-bleghh Monster). As for their classic I.R.S. albums, “Cuyahoga” was the only out-of-nowhere choice there; otherwise, they were barely represented. The band sounded OK, but the album was nothing that was going to bring anybody back to the R.E.M. fold after almost a decade of mediocre albums. If anything, the band sounded more out of touch than ever, trotting out their biggest hits without much gusto. It was, in a word, depressing.

Fast forward to the present. We now have R.E.M. Live At The Olympia, a two-disc 39-song set recorded during their “working rehearsal” shows in July 2007. At this point, Around The Sun had been thoroughly panned and ignored, and the band were determined to write better material for their next record in the face of rapidly thinning fan support. Most of those new songs are previewed here, and would eventually see official release on 2008’s Accelerate, far and away their best album in a decade; so while it’s the most represented record on here, it at least deserves to be, unlike Around the Sun. And as for their older songs, well, let me put it this way: besides Accelerate, the most represented albums on here are (in descending order) Reckoning, Fables Of The Reconstruction, and Chronic Town (FOUR songs from Chronic Town – that’s one song shy of the whole thing). Coming from a band whose setlists have been painfully 90’s-heavy since, well, the 90’s, this is pretty remarkable; I mean, maybe Reckoning isn’t a huge shock, but Fables Of The Reconstruction? With FIVE songs?! And so much of Chronic Town? These are albums most R.E.M. fans assumed they had just plain forgotten about – and maybe they had, considering how cautious they are in the introductions to each older song (especially on “Kohoutek” where Peter Buck goes as far as to say to Michael Stipe, “You should probably apologize to the audience before we play this – it could be bad”).

The important thing is, though, that these old hits sound great. I mean, it doesn’t hurt that they’re great songs to begin with – the early-mid 80’s were a good time for this band – but here they sound even more energetic than ever. I can’t imagine songs like “Maps and Legends” and especially “1,000,000” sounding better; they play these older hits as if they were Lifes Rich Pageant or Accelerate songs, with more muscular guitarwork and front-and-center vocals (Michael Stipe is in really good voice the whole way through – just saying). It’s really something, man. And as for the less-represented albums on here, the song choices are surprisingly top-notch. What would you expect from Document: maybe “The One I Love” and “It’s The End Of the World”? Try “Welcome To The Occupation” and oh-my-lord-yes “Disturbance At The Heron House.” Murmur gets “Sitting Still”(!!) and “West of the Fields”; Lifes Rich Pageant gets “Cuyahoga” and “These Days”; and the wrongs of R.E.M. Live are thankfully righted with the inclusion of “New Test Leper” and “Electrolite” from New Adventures, two of the honest-to-goodness most beautiful songs in the band’s catalog. There are times when I almost feel like this setlist was tailor made for me.

But there could be some complaints. If you are more of a fan of R.E.M.’s more commercially successful late 80’s-early 90’s work, this record will sadden you deeply. There’s nothing from Green or Out Of Time here, and only one song each from Automatic For The People and Monster. Speaking as a diehard Automatic fan, this is a little upsetting, since its one song here – “Drive” – was also on R.E.M. Live (still sounds great though, and at least it’s not the horrible “rock” version they used to play on the Monster tour). But it’s a testament to the quality of this live release that I honestly don’t even notice they’re missing most of the time. Those old hits are just so overwhelmingly well played that it just doesn’t matter. And hey – “Circus Envy,” from Monster, sounds a lot better here than it has any right to.

As for the newer songs, well. Accelerate‘s songs are still wonderful, even in their early incarnations (and I am reminded that “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” which kicks off the first disc, might be the best song they’ve recorded in the past decade). There’s also a couple of unreleased tracks intended for Accelerate that didn’t quite make the cut: the so-so rocker “Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance” and the kinda-boring “On The Fly” which finds the band still grappling with the dull-as-nails Around The Sun sound. And speaking of that album, “The Worst Joke Ever” is on here, and isn’t much more exciting than the album version. “I’ve Been High” from Reveal fares a little better – definitely a pretty song, but not a remarkable one. These are the only songs taken from their last few albums, however, and they stick out like a sore thumb (they are literally the SLOWEST SONGS EVER WRITTEN). It just goes to show how eager they were back in the post-Sun fallout to reconnect with the sound that made them great. Listening to this show all the way though, it is easy to see why Accelerate turned out so damn good.

Oh sure, you could trifle a bit with the song choices (as I just did). You could even think to yourself, “hey, maybe these live songs sound a little TOO good to not have been meticulously overdubbed,” but then you would just be a nagging nelly, wouldn’t you? Honestly, if you are an R.E.M. fan of any stripe, this is essential listening – ESPECIALLY if you fell off the wagon after Bill Berry left and haven’t even bothered giving Accelerate a chance. This one, unlike the last live album, will convince you. This release reminds me happily of when I saw these guys live last year, just being shocked at how re-energized, charismatic, and entertaining they were. And hey, they brought out “Ignoreland” and “Find The River” for that show, so I’ll excuse their exclusion of Automatic tracks on here for now. Consider us even, band I love so dearly!!

I’ll end this with a couple videos for you to see: one from one of the Dublin rehearsals, with them playing “Romance,” a B-side they hadn’t played in about twenty years. (Stipe is reading from a lyric sheet, which I’m sure he had to do for most of these old songs.):

Also as a bonus, and old live version of one of my favorite Out of Time tracks, “Half A World Away” (which, in a perfect world, would be on this thing):

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>Beach Boys Double-Review: "Carl And The Passions – ‘So Tough’" and "Holland"

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not particularly exciting art but hey

I have always had an affinity for once-popular rock musicians that are, for whatever reason, forced out of the public’s eye and yet continue to release music on a regular basis despite the fact that nobody is really listening. This often leads said musicians to either boldly experiment with their music, freed from the constraints of public expectations, or to blatantly attempt to recapture said public by writing fresh new “hit” singles that ape the sound that once made them so popular. Either way, it often makes for unusually exciting music, allowing us to see a side of a popular rock band that we would never see otherwise. And in my estimation, no other rock group had a more interesting down-and-out phase than the Beach Boys; after Brian Wilson’s mental collapse during the aborted SMiLE sessions in 1967, the rest of the band were left without the input of their chief (read: only) songwriter and resident genius, and as such were forced to take hold of the reigns themselves in order to keep the band alive. And it was in this state that they somehow lasted for six years – from ’67 to ’73 – managing to put out an album every year, no matter the quality. This led to some confusing, warped, and sometimes frightening records (Friends and Surf’s Up, anyone?), but it also led to some brilliant lost gems. Most Beach Boys aficionados cherish these albums for the SMiLE remnants that occasionally pop up for a track or two (“Cabinessence” and “Surf’s Up”, most notably), but the fact remains that the other members of the band, while not Brian Wilson-level wunderkinds, were pretty solid songwriters by any other standard. During this six year period, they led the Beach Boys through their last “progressive” era before they became a cornball nostalgia act in the mid-70s fronted by Mike Love.

I’ve reviewed a couple of these so-called “lost” Beach Boys albums before – 1967’s Wild Honey and 1970’s Sunflower. The thing about those two records is, despite their nigh-anonymous status, they are critically revered. The same can’t be said for the two records I will review here: 1972’s Carl and the Passions – “So Tough” and 1973’s Holland. These two records represent possibly the most unusual chapter in the Beach Boys’ career, after longtime collaborator Bruce Johnston left the band and young newcomers Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar were brought in as an attempt to “modernize” their sound. These changes allowed the band to abandon the quirky pop-rock showtuney stuff Johnston had been pushing and develop into a serious-minded hard-working rock band often compared to Steely Dan. This, obviously, is a far cry from the heavenly Pet Sounds-era vocal group so many people associate the Beach Boys with; and as such, these records were not only commercially ignored but critically maligned, a trend that continues today. Sure, parts of Holland get some recognition, but that’s about it; most just couldn’t accept that the Beach Boys were attempting something genuinely different.

I can see the problems with these records. They’re obvious. Blondie Chaplin and Ricky Fataar, despite their obvious talents, don’t quite gel with what the Beach Boys are going for and contribute a few songs that aren’t particularly exciting (and, for whatever reason, are the longest tracks on both albums). And there are some moments of embarrassment, mostly coming from Mike Love and Al Jardine – including a bizarre stab at Maharishi-inspired gospel on Carl and the Passions (“He Came Down”) and a silly spoken-word environmental message on Holland (“The Beaks Of Eagles”). But honestly, it isn’t hard to look beyond these flaws; I mean, they’re no worse than “Student Demonstration Time” on Surf’s Up or “Got To Know The Woman” on Sunflower, two more celebrated post-SMiLE releases. When you’re dealing with the Beach Boys in the early 70’s, you’ve gotta prepare to dig through a little crap. Thankfully, you won’t have to dig too deeply here to find to the good stuff.

And hey, there’s a lot of good stuff on these two records! Let’s talk about it. Passions‘s opening track, “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone,” is one of the Beach Boys’ most unusual, fractured pop songs, featuring an unsettling piano lick, quavery Carl vocal, and cutesy country-rock bridge. Then there’s “Marcella,” a reworking of a 60s-era Brian Wilson demo that has to be one of the Beach Boys’ smoothest, grooviest pop-rock hits of the 70s. Then there’s “All This Is That,” an ethereal sort of hymn that features the Beach Boys’ classic harmonies in full-swing, easily more spiritually successful than the awkward gospel “He Come Down.” Continuing on Holland, we open with the Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks track “Sail On, Sailor,” possibly the best track on each of these records and one of the Beach Boys’ finest songs, period. While it does have an atypical sound in context – Blondie Chaplin sings lead, with harmonies relegated to background status – the song is just so good, and Chaplin’s vocals so soulful, that you won’t care. Then you’ve got three of the most unusual tracks on any Beach Boys record: Mike Love and Al Jardine’s “California Saga,” a three-part song cycle that is easily the most ambitious project these two would ever attempt. While the aforementioned “Beaks of Eagles” is a pretty awkward spoken-word thing, “Big Sur” is a pleasant country-tinged ode to the beach and “California” is a gorgeous piece of nostalgia. I can’t imagine Mike Love writing a better song. Carl’s “The Trader” and Brian’s “Funky Pretty” also deserve mention – they’re nothing shocking, but they’re solid pop-rock songs.

But then, of course, there’s one other outstanding reason to dig into these two records – Dennis Wilson. Always the Beach Boys’ ace-in-the-hole they never knew they had, Dennis only has two songs apiece on each record, and for whatever reason he only sings his own songs on Carl And The Passions, but man – what songs. What a talent. Besides Brian, Dennis clearly has the most distinct, individual personality out of any of his bandmates; the two songs he sings on Passions – “Make It Good” and “Cuddle Up” – are tucked away near the second side, and they are two of the prettiest on the album, both lushly-produced piano-ballads sung with Dennis’s rough, broken, yet utterly beautiful voice. None of the other Beach Boys, not even Brian, could sing these songs with the same heartbroken effect; they’re completely Dennis’s. While their placement on the album is a little jarring – hearing these full-blown productions after the laid-back “Hold On Dear Brother” doesn’t quite feel right – they stand on their own as true gems. And while Dennis doesn’t sing either of his two songs on Holland – the bizarre “Steamboat” and the lovely “Only With You,” both sung by Carl – they both remain standout tracks. Just hearing Dennis’s development as a songwriter is worth the price of admission here, and it’s no wonder that the guy would go on to produce a wonderful solo album (not to mention that he recorded his own version of “Only With You” later on – which you should listen to right now).

So yes. These are two very unique, utterly listenable Beach Boys records that by all means you should own if you’re a fan. Deciding which one is superior really depends on personal taste – Holland if you love classic Beach Boys, Passions if you love Dennis Wilson. Either way, I never thought I would ever bother to listen to either of these records, ever. Lousy reviews drove me away. Then I picked them up on vinyl as a curiosity, and I’ve been playing them more than any other record I own. It’s not just that the bad tracks are so interesting, it’s that the good tracks are so, so good. And the good easily outweighs the bad here. These records are much more consistent than people make them out to be. Many will tell you that after Surf’s Up, they lost it. That’s not what I’m hearing. If either of these were released today by anonymous indie-rock groups, they would be hailed as classics.

Seriously, The Beach Boys would never sound this unusual or progressive ever again. I’ve heard that the addition of Chaplin and Fataar actually made them a great live band, culminating in the well-received Beach Boys In Concert LP which I sadly haven’t heard. But that would be it. Immediately after Holland, the Endless Summer compilation would shoot them back into nostalgia-driven stardom, and their next album 15 Big Ones would destroy their critical reputation. So enjoy these smooth grooves while you can! You will hear nothing else like them. I assure you.

P.S.: Here’s a fun promo video of “You Need A Mess Of Help To Stand Alone,” which reminds me of something I forgot to mention in the review – that is, the fact that the Beach Boys had become horrifying bearded mountain men in the early 70s. Just so, so, so much beard. You’ve been warned.

P.S.S.: But seriously, why do people hate Carl And The Passions so much? Amazon.com’s review says something along the lines of “THANK GOD IT’S ONLY EIGHT TRACKS.” I mean, maybe I shouldn’t look to Amazon.com for prime music criticism, but really. How could anybody hate a record that ends with “Make It Good,” “All This Is That,” and “Cuddle Up”? Come on. Those songs are so pretty. Come ONNN.

>6/18/08: R.E.M. For The People

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He didn’t have the facepaint on.

On Wednesday I drove down to Philadelphia with some friends of mine (I didn’t actually drive but y’know what I mean) to catch an R.E.M. show at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, backed up by upstarts The National and indie stalwarts Modest Mouse. For a little background, before the show I didn’t know a thing about the National (and I still don’t), I had barely ever listened to Modest Mouse since I’d only heard Lonesome Crowded West (that’s still all I’ve got), and loved the hell out of R.E.M. (still do). I had never seen any of these bands live.

To be honest, the only band I really cared about seeing was R.E.M. Since I don’t keep up with (and don’t care much about) modern indie rock, I viewed The National and Modest Mouse like sprinkles on a birthday cake – appealing, but inessential. I probably sound like a complete dick saying that, especially about a band like Modest Mouse who’ve got the indie-rock world in their proverbial pockets (with their hip cred increasing exponentially ever since Johnny Marr jumped into the fray). But it’s the truth – Modest Mouse seem like a pretty cool and creative band but when it comes down to it I’m so grumpily rotten about modern indie rock that I can’t embrace it the way most people my age can. At 21 I already feel like a cynical hipster dickhead.

But I shouldn’t jump the gun here – I like catching modern indie rock when I can. Seeing Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, and a smogasboard of other indie bands at Randall’s Island was a nifty experience (despite Arcade Fire being the only band there I cared about, but whatevee – the lead singer of Les Savy Fav was a funny bearded pudgy man who gyrated around with a cake in his mouth, so I had fun). Furthermore, despite feeling totally ambivalent towards much of the music, I like feeling hip now and then. So I thought, “Hey, I’m gonna see the National and Modest Mouse! Two hip bands! I can blather to all my indie-loving friends about how I saw them, and I’ll be like totally getting some sloppy BJs over my excessive music cred.” (Yes, sloppy BJs. I crave only the sloppiest.) So I viewed the concert as killing two birds with one stone – seeing hip new bands I don’t know AND hearing music I’ve loved and practically memorized over the past few years or so. Yes, yes. This would be a landmark show.

Well, sort of. First off, The National were OK. Nothing that moved me. The lead singer sings in this low croon that isn’t particularly exciting, and the band plays your sort of generic, moody, introspective indie rock. One thing I’ll say about them – they know how to sound big. I don’t know how they layered their instruments, but man, they filled the room with sound, and their instrumentation was crystal clear. So yeah, it was an appealing sound, but not a passionate one; it’s indicative of my attitude that despite sounding big and powerful and all that, they didn’t move me in any way (a friend of mine told me that their low-key music didn’t fit the atmosphere of the theater, but I still think they were just boring). Modest Mouse were more exciting – I didn’t know their songs, but they ripped right into them either way, with Issac Brock howling and yelling and Johnny Marr pulling off the same cool, melodic guitar soundscapes that made him such an asset to the Smiths. Plus, they had a dynamite percussion section, with two drummers bangin’ at once, sitting right next to each other. To be blunt, they delivered the goods; Modest Mouse are a big deal, and their live show proves their prowess. But again, I wasn’t moved. Issac Brock, while clearly in control onstage, wasn’t much of a showman and neither were the rest of the band – they walked onstage, banged out their songs (well, might I add), and left after 50 minutes. And that’s fine – that’s all the fans want to hear I’m sure – but it wasn’t an engrossing experience for me.

So after Modest Mouse I feared R.E.M. would fall in line with the openers: walk out to thunderous (if not obligatory) applause, play some decent songs, and leave with a quick thank you. It wasn’t just this show that established that precedent for me – seeing the White Stripes bang out 45 minutes worth of music before playing a two-song encore and leaving the stage without a word last year supported that notion. I was under the impression that most bands – even major, major modern bands like the aforementioned White Stripes and Modest Mouse – were just playing live shows to do their job and play their music without bothering to put on… y’know, a show.

But this is not what R.E.M. did. Here’s what happened: by the time R.E.M. hit the stage at around 9:30, the sun had set and the sky had grown dark (since we had lawn seats, this was especially noticeable). When Modest Mouse and the National played, everybody politely sat down and grooved on the music without a peep; once R.E.M. hit the stage, everybody – and I mean everybody – was on their feet. Now the excitement was building; it was real, almost tangible, and although I had been looking forward to seeing this band all night I didn’t quite expect this rush of tense, palpable anticipation. Once the band kicked things off with Life Rich’s Pageant‘s “These Days,” with Michael Stipe gyrating all over the stage and the band playing loudly and ferociously, I was in over my head. These guys were fuckin’ great.

To be honest, I did not expect this. Seeing R.E.M. on the Colbert Report a couple months back gave me the impression that they were a polite, restrained band – and I guess by most standards they were restrained, playing their songs like they are on the albums. But not only did they play with power and intensity, they were seriously wonderful to watch, especially Michael Stipe – I’d always thought he was a pretty dour guy, but here he was likeable, talkative, and above all totally into what he was doing. He would shout lyrics, run across the stage, dance around like a fool, with the rest of the band right with him. These guys weren’t aging alternative rockers – they were rock stars, period.

It also doesn’t hurt that their newest album, Accelerate, was practically made for a live setting (hell, almost all the songs were premiered live anyway). It also doesn’t hurt that the songs on Accelerate are the finest they’ve written in over a decade. Hearing them power through “These Days,” “Living Well Is The Best Revenge,” and “What’s The Frequency Kenneth?” one after the other makes it sound like nothing’s changed between now and their 80’s heyday – it’s like three whole decades baked into one cake. I haven’t heard R.E.M. Live, but knowing that it consisted of a glut of dour Around the Sun tracks, I’m under the impression that R.E.M. have been fighting hard to rock out a little more during their shows. The song selection doesn’t betray this – they played only one Around the Sun song (“Walk Unafraid,” which I honestly don’t even remember) and only a scant few songs recorded before Pageant (there were no Murmur or Reckoning songs to be found), so it seems they were going for a bigger, fuller, less folk-rock oriented sound. Thankfully, it worked like a charm.

As for the overall song selection, I can’t complain. They played three Life’s Rich Pageant tracks (the first three to be precise), six from Accelerate (including hits “Supernatural Superserious” and “Hollow Man”), a couple more intense songs from Green (“Turn You Inside-Out” and “Orange Crush”), a couple recent non-album hits (“Bad Day” and “The Great Beyond”), some choice early songs (“Wolves, Lower” off Chronic Town and “Life And How To Live It” off Fables of the Reconstruction), and even some of the biggest hits of their career (“The One I Love” and “Losing My Religion,” both wonderful just because everybody in the audience could sing along). A few personal favorites: they brought out “Imitation of Life,” a lovely recent song which sounds much better in a live setting than it did on Reveal; “Electrolite,” a cool New Adventures in Hi-Fi song that Stipe claimed was about L.A. looking like an ocean from afar; “Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance,” which Stipe claimed was a song “[they] haven’t performed in an actual setting, with an actual audience” (I guess it’s new?? either way it was a cool song); and of course, three of the best songs from Automatic for the People, my all-time favorite R.E.M. record. “Man On The Moon” was an obvious choice, but hearing them kick out political rocker “Ignoreland” and the absolutely beautiful “Find The River” was really something special.

Oh, and there were guests! Did I mention the guests? Johnny Marr played on “Man On The Moon” and “Fall On Me,” which was nice if not somewhat expected. But the first guest was a total surprise. Earlier on in the show, after “Hollow Man,” Stipe snidely claimed that the song was their take on Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” before saying “Oh by the way – Pearl Jam’s here tonight!” Now I thought that was pretty neat, but I didn’t think anything of it until Stipe suddenly called Eddie Vedder (yes, Eddie Vedder) onstage during the encore to run through “Begin the Begin.” It was a great moment – not only did Vedder look totally like he’d just been pulled out of the audience (wearing glasses, a cap, and a jumpsuit, he looked more like a gas station attendant than a rock star) but his voice fit the song perfectly, delivering each line with his trademark grunge howl. Watching two aging alternative icons dancing around and singing with such gusto was a real special moment for me.

Oh, I could complain. I would have preferred “It’s The End Of The World” and “Finest Worksong” over the inferior “Bad Day” and “Turn You Inside-Out,” and that Around the Sun song didn’t need to be there, but who gives a shit? Not once during the concert did I feel even a pinch of disappointment; the band played for almost 2 hours straight without a single bum moment. Michael Stipe’s infectious, forceful optimism was enough to wipe away every single self-absorbed gripe I had during The National and Modest Mouse’s sets to the point where I almost felt silly, and his claim that 2008 was “one of the greatest times to be an American” really got to me (even if I can’t wholly believe it now, I believed it then). Beyond Stipe, Mike Mills had a wonderful backup voice, singing as forcefully as ever (it’s a shame they didn’t do “Texarkana” or “Rockville,” but oh well) and Peter Buck played with the same intensity. And there I was, up in the lawn seats, singing along with almost every song. Not bad.

If you can catch R.E.M. this year, do it. If you think that they’re washed up or out of the loop or whatever, I guarantee you that seeing them live will change your mind. Hell, in 2008, how often are you going to catch a band that is both an underground icon AND a pop icon? I can bitch and moan about modern indie rock all I want, but seeing R.E.M. plucked all of those misgivings out of my mind. A couple years or so ago, when Around the Sun was still their latest album and their reputation was on the skids, I hoped – deep down – that they’d buck the claims that they weren’t viable anymore and just go for it one more time. Accelerate and this concert made that wish come true. Say what you like, but right now consider me the happiest R.E.M. fan in the world.

P.S. – Here’s a crappy video of Eddie Vedder singing “Begin The Begin” from the show. NEAT!

>Youtubin’ Live Music

>If the advent of internet video sites such as Youtube has done anything for me, it has provided me with a wealth of great, easily accessible live music performances. I don’t know if most people use Youtube for this – maybe they just use it for high-tech vlogging or finding ways to play Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts on a PSP. But it is really surprising how many great live rock performances I have found, at random, on Youtube.

I don’t know. Maybe it is because I am obsessed with rock music and the moment I hear a band I really like, I become immediately curious as to how they function as a live band. And now, in the crazy high-tech future year of 2008, I just type in a band and a song into Youtube’s search bar and voila! Live performances and music videos! This is Web 2.0 people!!!

But really, Youtube a fantastic resource for my obsession with live rock music. Why don’t I share some of my favorite videos with you. I know you would just love that.

(Note: If you don’t like or don’t care about any of the bands I post videos of here, you will not enjoy this post. I apologize in advance.)

One of the first videos I stumbled upon that showed me the true prowess of Youtube was a clip of R.E.M.’s first ever performance on television, doing Letterman way back in 1983. I’d heard about this performance somewhere on allmusic.com or something, so out of curiosity I searched for it on Youtube – and they, there it was.

And it’s a real cool video (unless you hate R.E.M. or something)! Michael Stipe has curly hair! Mike Mills looks like a child! David Letterman!!

The next video you could call an oddity – Nirvana, Top Of The Pops, ’91, doing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Here’s the thing about Top Of The Pops – most of the time, the band will mime playing their instruments to a backing track, and only the vocalist will actually sing live. And once in a blue moon, some particularly prickish bands will blatantly call attention to this by flailing around, not bothering to even look like they’re playing their instruments, and singing in a voice that sounds nothing like the actual recording.

Guess what Nirvana did.

There are more videos I could post but I’ll save them for another time. My only regret a this point is that I can’t find this amazing Van Morrison performance anywhere – a video of him doing “Cyprus Avenue” in 1970 in what has to be one of the most badass rock performance’s I’ve ever seen. But it’s gone! Alack. Maybe I’ll be able to find it next time.

Maybe.