Peter Buck enjoys an enviable freedom as a musician these days.
As the co-founder and lead guitarist for the Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-inhabiting band R.E.M., he influenced generations of musicians with his clean, Byrdsian riffs and unflappable stage presence.
But now that R.E.M. is done, Buck can do whatever he wants. And he wants to be on the road — but only when he feels like it.
"I'm just kind of hopping in and out of things I want to do in New York or places like Denver, where I have some friends," said Buck, 57, over the phone recently. "I didn't want to be on tour for five to six weeks, so I'm only doing some of the Baseball Project shows."
The Baseball Project, which headlines the Oriental Theater on Aug. 15 with Dressy Bessy and the Minus 5, is Buck's current gig, a supergroup that includes buddies Scott McCaughey (the Young Fresh Fellows), Mike Mills (R.E.M.) and Steve Wynn and Linda Pitmon of Dream Syndicate.
The band's third album of baseball-centric alt-rock/Americana ( titled, simply, "3rd") was released in March to positive reviews, sporting song titles such as "Stats," "Box Scores" and "The Babe."
And although Buck isn't a huge baseball fan himself, he appreciates the relatively low-key trappings of playing with a club band, as opposed to headlining stadiums and amphitheaters as he did in R.E.M.
"I enjoy doing smaller places and I like actually seeing the audience," Buck said. "I'm not in charge, don't have to do the set lists and they're not my songs. So by and large it's enjoyable to just show and up and go with it. There's less pressure than doing these really big songs that are important to me to get across. Plus we're friends and we hang out a lot anyway, so we might as well make music."
Buck has known most of the band members of the Baseball Project for at least three decades, leading to an effortless rapport in the studio and on stage that comes through in Baseball Project tracks such as their plucky, Ramones-indebted cover of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."
Buck admires his musical friends' obsession with the sport — its distinctly American lore, its endless stats and debates — but also feels the music is self-contained, despite the subject matter.
"Scott and Steve kind of treat the baseball players like Old West gunfighters. It's more about the legends and stories than baseball itself, because it really encompasses a lot of what America was in the 1920s and '30s," he said. "I have a lot of friends in England who like the records but don't know anything about baseball."
John Wenzel: 303-954-1642, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/johnwenzel
THE BASEBALL PROJECT. Alt-rock supergroup featuring Peter Buck, Mike Mills, Scott McCaughey, Peter Wynn, Linda Pitmon, with Dressy Bessy and the Minus 5. 8 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Oriental Theater, 4335 W. 44th Ave. $15. 720-420-0030 or theorientaltheater.com. Also performing before the 6:10 p.m. Colorado Rockies game Aug. 16; The Rooftop at Coors Field; colorado.rockies.mlb.com