As a Glastonbury festival regular of 3 years now, REM headlining Friday night was at first just a bonus as far as I was concerned, but soon turned out to be the highlight of the entire 3 day event. At the end of a long, sunny day which featured (amongst others) a dissappointing performance from Blondie, a bland, pretentious performance from Bush, and a volatile, crowd baiting yet highly entertaining performance from Hole, REM took the stage around half past ten.
Backed by a simple yet effective set of flashing neon signs, the synthesiser motif signalling the start of current UK single "Lotus" recieved a suprisingly positive reaction from the crowd (considering how keen the media to shove it down our throats that "Up" isn't apparently selling as well as previous albums), and at once your reviewer found himself pogoing like crazy with the rest of the tens of thousands of people who turned out to watch. Crowd excitement was further heightened by "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?", an in-your-face reminder of just how much REM can "rock" (if you'll pardon the expression!) when they choose to. The band were obviously encouraged by the enthusiasm of crowd after just two such new songs, Mills telling us "damn, we like playing in this country!".
From here on in, the band presented a well balanced selection of old and new songs, with personal highlights being "So Fast So Numb", "Man on the Moon", and "The One I Love", the latter introduced by Stipe as "....technically a crowd pleaser, but we're gonna play it anyway cos we f##king like playing it." Stipe seemed much more enthusiastic to talk to the crowd (an important skill to have to keep audience attention at a large festival, especially Glastonbury) than the last time I saw REM (Monster tour, Milton Keynes Bowl, UK - I took the bus cos I was too young to drive!), and dedicated "The Wake Up Bomb" to Blondie, and "Tongue" to all the women present. He also asked us is we were going to see Patti Smith (playing the following night), and a rare bemused smirk crept across his face as the crowd replied in a unified voice "no!". He proceeded to ask us if he could change our minds, and seemed even more amused when he asked us if we'd "ever seen something real", and bizarrely the majority of the crowd replied "no" (???). Much laughter and cheering was incited when he told us he could "..smell that we are real people" - I mean, it was the first day, how much body odour can an average festival goer acquire ten hours?
I was quite suprised by how well the softer textures of the "Up" songs filled such a large outdoor space, but they seamlessly blended with the older, more familiar material. REM seemed to have lost none of their sound with the departure of Bill Berry, and still seemed more than capable of putting on an excellent show. The singalong highlight of the evening was "Everybody Hurts", but my attempts to participate in the all-too-cliched rock concert act of waving a lighter above my head was marred by a sudden wind.
The Stipe and Mills acoustic encore of "Why Not Smile" was only marred slightly by some very drunk Welshman screaming in my ear "...f##king top band, mate, f##king amazing guitar player" before he (thankfully) ran off into the crowd shouting something about Led Zeppelin (who knows, it was Glastonbury after all!).
After a truly great one and a half hour performance enjoyed by all, the band finished on a highly charge "Its the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)", and then they were gone, the masses left to wander back to their tents singing "..I feel fine" in drunken slurs.
Back to the 1999 concert setlists