17 July 1999 - Manchester Evening News Arena, Manchester, England

By Matt Ellis

Teenage Fanclub were the only support on the night and they did a 45 minute set. Most of their material was taken from thier most famous album to date "Grand Prix" - about 6 tracks from that record alone. They played "Sparky's Dream" apparently as a request and highlights included the main front man Norman Blake playing Glockenspiel for the first time on one track - pulling off the notes onto the floor he didn't need to play! - on another song he frantically retuned his guitar mid song after a snapped string, only to hold-up the songs change to the outro. He subsiquently gave up retuning declaring "F***!" to the audience!

As in previous shows REM began with a few bars of "Airport Man". The lighting set was green blue and red neon and was slightly abstract as is expected. Centre stage was the word "Praha". A mirror ball was used on "Tongue". Then "What's the Frequency Kenneth?" Kicked in which really got the crowd going. Michael seemed fairly quiet to begin but certainly picked-up after 3 or 4 songs. At one point someone threw a Tellytubby figure onto the stage - Michael picked it up and said "Wait! what is this, does this thing sing too?" after much proding and shaking he continued "no it's silent, it must be broken". Other notable things Michael said were after the encore when he said "I seem to be doing this action a lot on stage lately" (he held out his up-turned right arm and clutched it at the top with his left hand rather like trying to exaggerate a vain). He then made obscure references to Bill Clinton being seen jutting out his jaw and Brad Pitt licking his lips which he said he had always been told, he himself did a lot. In the next break between songs Michael paced across the stage repeating quietly "I must not talk, I must not talk" much to the audiences amusement.

As in other gigs after the encore Michael did a solo spot sitting on a stool and strumming acoustic guitar to shorter versions of "Hope" and "Walk Unafraid". I found this very emotional and a small amount of steady clapping could be heard. Between these songs Michael briefly seemed very hesitant as if trying to rremember the chords and you could almost hear a pin drop. Mike Mills joined on accoustic for an excellent arpeggioed version of "Why Not Smile" and got a peck on the cheek from Stipe at the end. During "Tongue" Michael looked up to his left as if addressing it to someone in the executive boxes above him. Some of the 30,000 crowd were actually behind the stage and Micheal turned around to acknowledge them on several occasions which was a nice touch. Peter got rather upset towards the end of the set with the guitar tech - 3 of his customary black Rickenbackers were brought out on stage and he proceeded to spin one up into the air and confront the tech. Just after Michael put his arm around this shoulder and later Peter was seen smiling broadly.

My only slight dissaopintment was that they didn't choose to play some of the much older stuff as in previous gigs only "Fall On Me" was an old song which Michael said was "older than time". Also the bass seemed quite low in the mix through most of the set. Apart from this it was a fantastic gig and a brilliant performance by the band and great showmanship from the front man.

By Tom Mayne

We were quite far from the stage (with binoculars) but the sound was big enough to fill the large arena without any complaints. Michael was in great voice tonight, even better than he was at Glastonbury (I saw it on TV), though not quite as energetic.

Somebody must have mentioned the stage set-up before, but it's worthy of another mention. By simple effects, it became virtually transformed for each song, whether it be the bright orange light which flared up for the chorus of 'The One I Love', the manic strobe for 'Star 69', or the flashing through of all the signs for 'It's the End of the World as We Know it.' Several of the neon signs suspended above the ring formed two-frame 'animations': a peeling banana (a Velvets reference?) and an instant camera. There was a certain international flavour to them; Japanese writing, a New York café sign, and the word 'Praha' (Czech for Prague) flashed up from time to time. Lively and colourful, they really complemented the music.

After a solid first three songs, R.E.M. played their new single, 'Suspicion'. It sounded good, though I think the mood of this song is better captured on its album version. The same could be said for 'E-Bow' - without Patti and the E-bow itself, it lacks something. On the other hand, 'The Apologist' was one of the highlights of the set for me. The chorus has really been beefed up in terms of the drum sound (I'm not sure if Joey has anything to do with this) and the whole song blisters along at a faster pace now. Another highlight, as others have commented, was the following, 'Sweetness Follows' with its throbbing mournful bass, and lovely Buck acoustic rhythms leading into the chorus. Michael introduced it as 'Peter's favourite song'. 'Find The River' was great too, even more surprising due to the fact that for the Monster tour, band-members complained that they couldn't come up with a satisfactory live version.

'Losing my Religion' got the biggest cheer of the night, followed by another favourite - 'Pop Song 89' for which Michael did his customary shoulder wiggle dance. The opening of 'Walk Unafraid' featured Michael singing alone with only an organ backing him, before the rest of the band crashed headlong into it. 'Man on The Moon' was also preceded by some a cappella singing. Then the neon 'Thank You' sign lit up as we all waited for the encore.

Michael's acoustic section was touching, especially because he is not too steady on the guitar, and I think he was put off a little by the ubiquitous hand-clapping, especially during 'Falls To Climb'. He started 'Hope' off with the line, 'you want to trust religion...' After the line, 'It's something from your childhood,' he stopped playing and said, 'his eyes were like two white opals, like two... white... opals' - a quotation from Patti Smith's 'Birdland' (from her first album 'Horses') - a song about a child who imagines being taken up to a ship in the sky, controlled by his dead father.

After two strong Monster numbers, and a satisfying 'Fall On Me', the band finished with a massive 'It's the End of The World.' The song stopped before its final section during which Peter swapped guitars, although I'm sure some people didn't even notice as Michael immediately launched into a cover of 'Suspicion Minds' in the interim. The band then accompanied him for a few seconds before hitting the ending of 'End of the World', with Michael really shouting the 'Time I had some time alone' line.

Of course, R.E.M. can never satisfy everybody's wish for their 'favourite song', but like the other reviewer I would have liked to hear early songs such as 'Perfect Circle' or the recently revived, 'Life and How to Live It'. I know they've played it so much recently, but I also missed 'Country Feedback'. But these are simply preferences; all in all, R.E.M. were on great form tonight.

Back to the 1999 concert setlists