Accelerate is, in my opinion, the best R.E.M. album since New Adventures in Hi-Fi (which was also mostly rehearsed live). Listening to Live at The Olympia a few times reveals why. I have seen R.E.M. live a number of times, before and after the performances aggregated on this live record. But never like this. This is the sound of a band with something to prove.
R.E.M. were coming off of their artistic nadir, Around the Sun, an album much maligned as adult contemporary. The album belied the band's power as a live act. Even on the ATS tour, those songs played with a ferocity that sounded neutered and over-produced on the album proper. The band heard the roundly negative criticisms they received and responded in kind with the stripped down Accelerate.
What's striking about Live at The Olympia is that R.E.M.'s classic songs sit so comfortably beside the still-embryonic tunes that would become Accelerate. They are put in a context of R.E.M.'s larger canon, something the band never did with the fussy songs of Up, Reveal, and Around the Sun. The problem was not one a lack of tunefulness, but of execution. Just listen to how ATS's "Worst Joke Ever" and Reveal's "I've Been High," excellent songs both, pop like they never did on their recordings.
R.E.M. is currently working on their follow-up to Accelerate. They say they will repeat the live rehearsal format for that album, too. If the success of Live at The Olympia is any indication, R.E.M. have another great album in the making.