Pete Buck said to me on the phone," recalls Mike Mantione, singer/guitarist for this weekend's REM opener, Five Eight, "people aren't really going to be paying attention, so just play loud and fast." This shouldn't be a problem for the Athens, GA band. Over the course of six albums, two lineup changes, and more tragedy and disappointment than you can shake a bottle of Zoloft at, Five Eight has gotten something very special -- and, yeah, something loud and fast -- just right. Whereas the openly manic-depressive Mantione's heart-wrenchingly honest lyrics and painfully vulnerable stage presence once acted as magnetic center for the band's feverish hurricane of sound, time, personal tragedy, and therapy have mellowed the singer into something more confident, less desperate, less disturbed, but still aching to spill out his soul. And this has happened just as his band has turned its instrumental attack into something ferociously precise. Nowhere is this more apparent than on its latest, self-titled disc.
"I wanted to somehow tie everything together, come full circle," says Mantione. "This was the first rock record we'd put out in a while. The Good Nurse  was more like a solo record for me. For this one, we kept all the instrumentation to us, the guys in the band. And really, nothing else fit." The band added extra sounds to the recording that could never be duplicated onstage with just three guys. But live, expect to hear a whole mess of newly muscular meditations on love, loss, guilt, and playing rock 'n' roll, performed with an energy that seems impossible for a group of guys pushing 40.
"We put it all out there," Mantione says, "and a lot of times when you're on a major tour, there's a conscious effort to get a band that is not going to upstage you. It's just the way it's done. With REM, no one's gonna upstage them. I don't think they've got too much to worry about. But I'll tell you, I'm gonna give 'em a run for their money."
REM and Five Eight play this weekend at Berkeley's Greek Amphitheatre. 7:30 p.m. Ticketmaster.com.
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