After 12 years of leaden, increasingly aimless albums, R.E.M. pulled off a welcome rock cliche Wednesday night at Merriweather Post Pavilion: something very much like redemption. Credit that not to the group's good-but-not-great new album, "Accelerate," but to strong song choices and especially singer Michael Stipe, who at 48 grinned, did funny dances and genially reminded the audience his band wasn't quite ready for the state-fair circuit.
Opening with "Finest Worksong," R.E.M. surveyed much of its 28-year career, peppering its set with new songs, hits like "Losing My Religion" and powerful renditions of "Orange Crush" and "Drive," a darkly ironic take on rock-star stage banter. Stipe mostly kept his own chat light, if irony was never far away: "We're gonna play several songs sequentially for about an hour and 45 minutes," he said impishly toward the show's start, "and you're gonna face in this direction and jump up and down."
Less popular was the moment the singer donned a Barack Obama for president button before the band brought out Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (a member of opener Modest Mouse) to join it for "Fall on Me" and a set-closing version of "Man on the Moon," which inspired much finger-dancing in the crowd. Stipe's frequent political remarks either elated audience members or made them momentarily furious. Mostly, though, partisan storms passed as quickly as a beautiful, acoustic guitar version of "Let Me In," the band's song about Kurt Cobain, or the almost obligatory performance of "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville."
-- Andrew Beaujon
Kim Deal has just about the most unimpeachable record in alternative rock. She played bass on five albums with the Pixies that ranged from merely excellent to pantheon-great. Her four albums as the creative force behind the Breeders can be categorized similarly, while a single album by the Amps is one of the great, underrated classics of the 1990s. So it came as no surprise that a performance by the regrouped (not reunited) Breeders on Wednesday night at the 9:30 club was an unqualified success. It was an evening of crunchy guitars, delightful harmonies by Deal and twin sister Kelley and songs that veered from weird to catchy, often within the same tune.
The highlights were nonstop. The band's biggest hit, "Cannonball," was a glorious mess of feedback, distorted vocals, one-note guitar riffs, a walking bass line and manic drum fills. "Pacer" was a breezy pop delight that showcased Kim's vocals, which were husky yet pretty, in that two-packs-a-day kind of way. The Breeders don't need to rely on other bands' material, but covers of Guided by Voices' "Shocker in Gloomtown" and the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" were perfect, although it was a bit disconcerting to hear Kelley sing on the latter considering it was her heroin use that brought the band to a halt at the height of its popularity.
It wasn't a very polished performance, but that's befitting a band that has managed only four albums in 18 years. Kelley apologized before, during and after each song on which she handled lead vocals, even though the quick blasts of "I Just Wanna Get Along" and "It's the Love" were standouts. The main set finished with Kim sitting down, below view of most of the audience, for a pummeling version of "Empty Glasses." Instead of simply walking offstage, she said the band would be right back for the encore. The slightly confused crowd was silent for a moment but soon broke into loud cheers even though the return was imminent. The band certainly deserved it.
-- David Malitz