LOS ANGELES — R.E.M. turned the taping of a scene for TV’s “Party of Five” into a mini-concert for a small audience of fan-club members and radio-contest winners Wednesday night.
“I thought since the kids were going to be here all day, it would be nice to give them a little show,” guitarist Peter Buck said after the hour-long set. “So we just winged it.”
The kids were at the Palace theater to watch R.E.M. play their ballad “At My Most Beautiful” (RealAudio excerpt) over and over again for the TV show’s cameras on a stage decorated with strings of gold lights. The performance will be part of a bar scene on an episode of the show scheduled to air in April.
After hours of taping, during which singer Michael Stipe appeared to sing the song with renewed emotion each time, the band took a short break and then returned to play a dozen more tunes, including “The Apologist” and “Walk Unafraid” (RealAudio excerpt) from their most recent album, Up, and such hits as “It’s The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” and “Man on the Moon” (RealAudio excerpt).
Stipe said later the experience was a new one for the band.
“The stops and starts of TV is really different from doing what we do, which is playing for as long as we want,” Stipe said while sitting at a table on the club’s balcony. He said the band was hungry and tired, but in good spirits about what will be its prime-time TV debut.
“I like the idea of doing a show like ‘Party of Five’ because it kind of puts us and our music out to an audience that might not necessarily be familiar with us,” Stipe said. “That’s cool.”
Stipe said the show’s producers chose “At My Most Beautiful,” which he described as a favorite of the band and a likely candidate for a future single. He said the show always has been supportive of the band. The series pilot used a pair of R.E.M. songs, including the hit ballad “Everybody Hurts,” and the show has used several more R.E.M. tunes in other episodes.
“The ‘Party of Five’ people from the get-go have been really gracious with us,” Stipe said.
R.E.M., who said they hadn’t seen each other since Thanksgiving, rehearsed Tuesday and arrived at the Palace Wednesday afternoon for the shoot. Stipe, Buck and keyboardist/bassist Mike Mills were joined by Beck drummer Joey Waronker, Posies guitarist Ken Stringfellow and the Young Fresh Fellows’ Scott McCaughey on keyboards for the TV scene.
Stipe, dressed in a gray sweater and cream-colored pants, roamed the stage, clutching the mic with one hand while gesturing characteristically with the other.
Nearly 200 R.E.M. fans, under the instructions of directors and producers, cheered at key moments and mingled around the tables set up on the club’s floor. They were selected through the band’s fan club and via contests on radio stations across the country.
“It’s really cool to be here because I love R.E.M. and I love ‘Party of Five,’” said Shawna Johnsen, 24, who received her invitation through the band’s fan club. “Just to be this close to R.E.M is really special.”
When the shooting wrapped at about 6 p.m., the band took a short break before returning to the stage. Joining fans and the “Party of Five” cast, including Neve Campbell and Lacey Chabert, at that point were the likes of Hole’s Eric Erlandson and actress Ellen Barkin. The club still was decidedly more than half-empty.
“We’re going to play ‘At My Most Beautiful’ another 13 times,” Stipe joked when the band returned.
He then said the gig would serve as a rehearsal for the group.
“Normally we don’t rehearse in front of that many people, but it’s a unique experience that’s supposed to be fun for everybody,” Mills said later.
The informal aspect of the performance was endearingly apparent. While performing the minute-long “I’m Not Over You,” from Up, alone with his guitar, Stipe stopped abruptly and said he didn’t know the chords. Mills ran onstage, quickly whispered the chords in Stipe’s ear, and exited the other side.
“We pretty much remembered the songs,” Buck said afterward. “We just winged it, and it was fine.”
Stipe said, “It was great to see people who like our album as much as we do.”
Up has been a commercial disappointment. The album, released in October, just passed the half-million mark in sales last week, according to sales tracker SoundScan’s figures. But Stipe said it’s an album the band is proud of.
“For me, usually after six months after we’ve recorded and delivered a record, I can usually shoot holes through it,” he said. “With this record, six months later I can listen to it and enjoy it.”