R.E.M. back in ‘Accelerate’ mode 

Many rock stars are content to rest on their laurels. But that’s not the case with R.E.M. axeman and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Peter Buck, a whirling dervish of side-project activity.

Since his supergroup’s 1981 inception, he also strummed for the late Warren Zevon in the Hindu Love Gods; Robyn Hitchcock in the Venus 3; Scott McCaughey’s Minus 5; local alt-folkie Mark Eitzel and short-lived spinoffs Tuatara and the Full Time Men.

As the Baseball Project, he just completed a sports-themed set with McCaughey and Steve Wynn, "Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails."

"Everyone I work with, we don’t have any money, and we go in and make a record in like four or five days," says Buck, 51, whodiscovered a minor problem via those DIY discs. "I’d play ‘em against the last R.E.M. record [2004’s "Around the Sun"] and they were all better, and I couldn’t figure out why."

But Buck — who returns to his Berkeley birthplace for two shows at the Greek this weekend — arrived at a logical conclusion for R.E.M.’s comeback, "Accelerate."

His outside efforts, he realized, "weren’t made with this long-winded process of ProTools and overdubbing, or booking eight months in the studio and spending every day trying to iron every last bit of spontaneity out of it. Sometimes with R.E.M. we’d do 20 takes of a song, and I’d ask ‘Why are we doing this?’"

His band mates — bassist Mike Mills and frontman Michael Stipe — had no answer.

So Buck delivered an ultimatum: "Everybody knew I wasn’t happy, and I wanted everyone to understand that I had absolutely no interest in making records the way we’d been doing it, like we were making an Eagles album or something. So I said, ‘If we don’t make a great record, I’m not doing this anymore.’"

Buck knew his group had been penning jagged, guitar-oriented numbers like "Mr. Richards," "Horse to Water" and "Supernatural Superserious" — cuts that recalled the Athens, Ga., outfit’s early I.R.S. Records days.

But they needed an editor who could hustle "Accelerate" along. So U2/Snow Patrol’s Jacknife Lee was recruited, with orders to halt so-so sessions after three or four takes.

The process worked. Buck’s guitar is actually conversing, even scrapping with Stipe’s vocals again, instead of being buried under a mountainous keyboard mix, a la "Sun."

It’s more in line with R.E.M.’s no-frills early-’80s approach, Buck says, "back when we had 40 songs, we weren’t on the radio, and we had to just go into the clubs and do it. And we were left alone, unsigned, so we really became super-tight — I mean, if someone had signed us that first year, I don’t know if we would’ve made those same first records."

IF YOU GO

R.E.M. with Modest Mouse, The National

Where: Greek Theatre, Gayley Road and Hearst Avenue, Berkeley

When: 6 p.m. Saturday; 5 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $39.50 to $89.50

Contact: (415) 421-8497 or www.ticketmaster.com

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Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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