Picture this. Athens. A sweltering summer evening. An athletics field and almost forty thousand people gathered in anticipation of a spectacle. Did I say Athens? This was no homecoming for REM. This was Athens, Greece. The irony of the venue was not lost on the band as they greeted the ecstatic crowd. Taking the stage and opening the gig with the opening track of the new album, they were welcomed with an excitement reminiscent of the festival staged the previous week on the very same stage. This event was billed as an extension to the Rockwave festival which so ably hosted the likes of Blur, The Prodigy and the Fun Lovin' Criminals ten days earlier, however REM were the most eagerly anticipated attraction of them all.
The supporting act, handpicked by Messrs Stipe, Mills and Buck, were a local band named Pix Lax who charmed the crowd with their melody and (so I was told) clever lyrics which, unfortunately for me, were all in Greek. And then… A customary, "good evening…" and REM quickly launched into 'Lotus'. Did somebody turn the heating up? At the front it was bedlam and although it never got dangerous, a couple of people made their way out of the mosh pit even before REM had begun the second verse.
As REM continued with tracks from their latest three albums, the crowd continued to replicate the energy displayed by the band. Welcome respite and a chance to catch breath came in the form of 'Fall on Me' and 'Everybody Hurts', two of the many highlights of the night. Proceedings were punctuated with the announcement of REM roadie Microwave's birthday followed by a member of the audience proclaiming their birthday. "Yeah, but I don't know you - I don't care", was the reply from Mr Stipe. Quite.
Tonight, REM showed why they are held in such high esteem around the world. Generally, their popularity may have diminished although that's not always a bad thing - they never intended to be a radio-friendly band anyway. Their music is thoughtful and much appreciated by millions the world over. More importantly, they continue to rock with all the vigour of the so-called 'youthful' bands emerging today and then some. This performance was the rule rather than the exception. Forty thousands Greek fans singing along word for word can't be far wrong.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists