This beautiful live version of ‘E-Bow the Letter’ was recorded in London in 2004
The release of New Adventures in Hi-Fi was something of an unexpected move by R.E.M. back in 1996. Having gone stratospheric with Automatic For The People in 1992, they embraced huge rock star riffs and an enormous world tour on 1994’s Monster. Most would have expected the band to have been worn out by the attention and the workload, but instead they wrote another record whilst on the road.
That Monster tour, of course, was to prove a turning point in the band’s history, with drummer Bill Berry suffering a brain aneurysm during a show in Lausanne, Switzerland. Although he recovered and the tour was completed, New Adventures in Hi-Fi was to be the last R.E.M. album he played on.
Mike Mills explained: “We got into the studio feeling very happy and relieved that everyone was OK, especially Bill. It brought us all much closer and made us realise how important we are to each other. Once we’d been through a crisis like that, making a record was a piece of cake. We discussed making an album of on-the-road stuff a year and a half before we went on the Monster tour. We wanted to get some of the looseness and spontaneity of a soundcheck, live show or dressing room.”
The album eventually contained a mixture of material recorded during soundchecks and later studio work, borrowing the process from Radiohead, who recorded some of the basic tracks for The Bends while on tour - and it was to prove inspired, with the album up there with their very best.
However, understated first single ‘E-Bow The Letter’, featuring Patti Smith on vocals, was far from an obvious opener to the project - Michael Stipe later admitted that the band stopped choosing singles after that - but it’s become one of their best-loved, with a haunting majesty to it.
Now, ahead of the release of Live at the BBC, a collection of rare and unreleased live and studio recordings culled from the BBC and band archives, we’re delighted to be premiering a live version of the track, performed at London’s St James’s Church on 15 September 2004 - and featuring none other than Thom Yorke performing Patti Smith’s vocals. As well as inspiring their creative approach to New Adventures, the band also supported R.E.M. in 1994 and 1995 where they became friends.
It’s a stunning version of the track, with Yorke really unleashing in the outro: take a listen below.
The relationship between the BBC and R.E.M. is lovingly celebrated across an incredible collection that’s available as a super-deluxe edition 8-CD/1-DVD box set, as well as 2-CD, 2-LP and digital formats.
In-studio performances featured in the 8-CD/1-DVD box set include a John Peel Session (1998), Drivetime and Mark and Lard appearances (2003) and a glorious Radio 1 Live Lounge performance (2008). Live broadcasts include a rough-and-tumble show from Nottingham’s Rock City (1984), the stunning 1995 Milton Keynes Monster Tour (their first after a six-year break), a blistering 1999 Glastonbury headline set and an invitation-only 2004 show at London’s St James’s Church.
It’s out on 19 October - so in the meantime, why not stick New Adventures in Hi-Fi back on and fall in love with a classic all over again.