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R.E.M.’s ‘Working Rehearsals’ Get Underway in Ireland

Last night (July 1), R.E.M. opened the second night of its five-date “Working Rehearsals” residency at Dublin’s historical Olympia Theatre with a confession: “This is what we do when you’re not looking,” joked Michael Stipe, who would spend the evening reading semi-complete lyrics from a laptop and occasionally fluffing his lines.

Having flown in from Vancouver where they’ve been working with producer Garret “Jacknife” Lee (U2, Snow Patrol, Bloc Party), Stipe, R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and bassist Mike Mills are in the Irish capital to road test tunes from their currently untitled 14th album to date and follow up to 2004’s Around the Sun. Following the Olympia gigs, the band will relocate to Grouse Lodge residential studios in the Irish midlands to finish the LP.

Stressing this was not a conventional concert, Stipe, wearing an off-white suit-jacket and sneakers, informed the sold-out crowd it was getting to witness R.E.M.’s creative process first hand. Just so nobody was under any illusions, a neon back projection spelled it out: This is Not a Show.

With regular touring guitarist Scott McCaughey and ex-Ministry drummer Bill Rieflin completing the lineup, R.E.M. debuted 11 new songs. Overall, the tone was strident and guitar heavy — more Monster than Automatic for the People. As yet, only a handful of the tracks have titles: “On the Fly” featured McCaughey on slide guitar, while “Man Sized Reef” surfed on a signature Buck riff, and “Until the Day is Done” is a reverb-soaked ballad. As an “olive branch” to devotees, many of whom had crossed oceans to be here, the band also dipped into its catalogue, dusting-down vintage faves such as “Drive,” “Second Guessing” and “Disturbance at the Heron House.”

“Seeing R.E.M. up close was awesome. They had tremendous energy — they were like a bunch of kids up there,” said Greg Lewis, 26, who had traveled to Dublin from Los Angeles just for this show. “I planned on going to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival, but when I heard about these concerts, I had to come.” Still, Lewis left the Olympia with at least one question unanswered: “Did you see all the toy dinosaurs they had on stage. What the hell was that about?” ED POWER