This REM concert struck me as one of the best performances that I've ever seen by any band, for 4 reasons. Firstly, the set was well balanced between newer and older stuff, secondly Mr Stipe's performance was suitably manic, thirdly the venue was tight and lastly not one person lit a lighter throughout the set. The prevalence of German fans at the gig had left us fearing a flame-fest. (No offence meant) With this in mind, in hindsight, it does seem lucky that 'Everybody hurts' wasn't included on the set list.
The week before had rained pretty solidly, which was strange for Budapest in July. However, the Friday morning of the concert saw a glimpse of sun. This encouraged me and an American friend, Ron , to take advantage of a day off work. Gallons of cheap fizzy Hungarian beer followed. While the beers settled in Ron regaled me with his previous REM live experiences on the American college circuit, years earlier.
The day was thrown into confusion, when rumours started to circulate of a change of venue. On arriving, it was easy to push our way to the front of the crowd, although somewhere along the way I lost Ron. I spent most of DEUS's set shouting 'Ron' at any tall, gawky looking Americans in eyesight, of which, bizarrely, there were a few (no offence meant again).
All of the REM band members were out at some stage to watch DEUS, who seemed to have little time for the warm up slot and ploughed on in a rather turgid manner. Today wasn't their day. About 10 minutes before the start of the concert we could clearly see Peter Buck and Mike Mills standing around at the back of the stage, behind the amps. They looked totally relaxed, more like they were about to smoke a pipe than play a gig. The intro tape of Sly and the Family Stone and the afore mentioned alcoholic sustenance had whipped me up into the right mood. The crowd were surprisingly friendly; I'm much more used to the English 'rugby scrum' concert, where there is endless pushing. My girlfriend still insisted on holding both of my hands, probably so that I would stop waving them around like a rabid baboon.
The band came on at about the optimum time, darkness coming down on a hot July night. Stipey approached the front of the stage and cracked into the first few lines of 'Have You Ever Seen The Rain', this launched effortlessly into 'Lotus'. It was at about this time that we realised that he was up for it, really up for it. He kun-fued his way through Lotus and the next two songs went past in a similarly energetic style. The songs that particularly stick out for me were 'Suspicion', 'Half a World Away' and 'Walk Unafraid'. However, 'So Fast So Numb' was an absolute pearler, so much so that I still get bleary eyed when I hear it and tend to bore my friends with slightly pretentious reminiscences about REM in Budapest.
Michael Stipe said little throughout, but at one point visibly tired of the lasers being pointed at him from the crowd; "hey friend cut it out," he slurred in his Southern drawl, "where I come from that means you're about to shoot me." No more lasers. The set was amazingly long or am I just used to arrogant English indie bands that play 12 song sets. REM looked like a band that was enjoying what they do.
The encore was surreal but superb. Stipe, Buck and Mills stood around at the front of the stage in a huddle, seemingly deciding what songs to play next. They then went off stage. Stipey re-emerged with an acoustic guitar, sitting down to play 'Hope', which acoustically, sounded even more like 'Suzanne' than the album version.
I guess everyone who saw REM in 1999 will remember, "It's the End of The World," as a classic encore song. Stipe bouncing around the stage, staring out the front rows, shadow boxing like a pro, throwing the microphone stand around…followed by the microphone. It's difficult to think of a current better live performer. The song went on and then, "see you next time," and that was it. Excellent. Some of my friends who were further back didn't enjoy the performance, as much as me, but I was like, "when's the next one?" Testament to this I spent the next two weeks plotting how I would get to Slovenia to see them again. Never went though. Cheers.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists