R.E.M. perform acoustic version of Losing My Religion as original lineup reunites for first live performance in 17 years

R.E.M. play live together for the first time in 17 years at the 2024 Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction and Awards Gala
(Image credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Songwriters Hall Of Fame)

“What would it take to get you guys back together one more time?” That was the question Anthony Mason of CBS asked the original members of R.E.M. on Thursday morning’s show.

Bassist Matt Mills replied, “A comet!” Everyone laughed. “Superglue,” said drummer Bill Berry. “It would never be as good,” said guitarist Peter Buck, everyone nodding. In other words, no chance. And yet, they did just that, with the band taking to the stage that same evening at the New York Marriott Marquis Hotel for a surprise acoustic performance.

Celebrating the band’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, R.E.M. performed an acoustic version of their 1991 smash-hit Losing My Religion, with Buck playing his Gibson Flatiron mandolin, Mills setting aside his bass guitar to play a Taylor 12-string acoustic guitar. Berry was on bongos. It was an echo of their 1991 BBC Radio One performance of Losing My religion.

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It is most likely not a sign of things to come. A full reunion seems out of the question. They all might have sold Mason a dummy on Thursday morning but that was surely just a white lie to save the surprise for the awards ceremony later that evening.

Buck says R.E.M. got out at the right time when they amicably split in 2011, their final studio album Collapse Into Now, and no one around the table disagreed.

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“I think we quit at the right time,” said Buck. “It was a really good place to finish, great tour, great album, go home.”

The last time R.E.M.’s original lineup performed live together was at the 2007 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ceremony, where the band were inducted by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder. Vedder joined them onstage for Man On The Moon. Patti Smith joined them for a cover of The Stooges’ I Wanna Be Your Dog. 

Last night, Jason Isbell was on inducting duty. Buck spoke of the band’s pride at their inclusion in the Songwriters Hall Of Fame. “We lived or died on the strength of our songs,” says Buck. “So this is a huge honour.” 

His bandmates credited him with pushing them on. Was he the taskmaster? asked Mason. Yes, was the answer, but they needed that. “Let’s say there’s a body of work that wouldn’t be there if had you not been pushing us as hard as you did,” said Stipe.

R.E.M. were the college band that made it big. Founded in Athens, Georgia, in 1980, they worked hard and fast, and built a cult following before the dawn of the ‘90s, when their sound found a wider audience.  Out Of Time (1991) and Automatic For The People (1992) were huge, and R.E.M. were one of the band’s chiefly responsible for making alternative rock a mainstream concern.

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In 2018, Buck sat down with MusicRadar and explained his approach to songwriting. 

“I’m kind of a formalist as far as songwriting and guitar parts,” he said. “I write parts out, I tend to have a bridge, an intro, an outro. The idea of somewhere two-thirds of the way through the song you’re getting new information melodically and lyrically, I think that’s really helpful.”

Buck was interviewed alongside Joseph Arthur about their Arthur Buck collaboration. He described his playing style as rhythm-first. “That’s my job,” he said. “I’m a way better rhythm guitar player than I am a soloist.”

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Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.