R.E.M. Celebrates 20 Years With 'Unplugged'
There was much cause for celebration at the MTV studios in New York's Times Square Monday night (May 21), as two venerable acronymned institutions commemorated their 20th anniversaries: music channelThere was much cause for celebration at the MTV studios in New York's Times Square Monday night (May 21), as two venerable acronymned institutions commemorated their 20th anniversaries: music channel MTV and pioneering modern rock outfit R.E.M.
As part of the festivities, MTV briefly resurrected one of its most popular shows, "MTV Unplugged," for sets by R.E.M. and, later in the night, relative youngsters Staind. R.E.M. first graced "Unplugged" in 1991, following the release of the 10-million selling Warner Bros. album "Out of Time." With the show, R.E.M. became one of few acts to make a second "Unplugged" appearance.
This time around, the group was without founding drummer Bill Berry (who retired from R.E.M. in 1998), but its sound was fleshed out for most of the night by multi-instrumentalists Ken Stringfellow (Posies) and Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus Five), as well as drummer Joey Waronker, to whom the band dedicated an impromptu version of "Happy Birthday."
R.E.M. performed 17 songs for the special, which will air July 19, including tracks stretching from 1984's "Reckoning" album to the brand-new "Reveal," released last Tuesday. Only one song, "Losing My Religion," was reprised from the 1991 "Unplugged" taping.
Among the highlights were a spirited take on "Sad Professor," from 1998's "Up," and an impassioned reading of the "Out of Time" stream-of-consciousness dirge "Country Feedback," which brought a sitting Stipe to his feet as he howled out the song's refrain, eventually slipping in a few lines from Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone."
Staind's performance included the tracks "Fade," "Epitaph," "It's Been Awhile," and "Outside," an acoustic version of which (recorded by Staind's Aaron Lewis with Limp Bizkit's Fred Durst during the 1999 Family Values tour) reached the top-10 on both of Billboard's rock airplay charts. Durst, however, did not appear to reprise his role on the latter song. Staind's new Flip/Elektra album, "Break the Cycle," was released today (May 22).
For a full review of R.E.M.'s performance, visit Billboard.com's Live Reviews section.