Tuesday, 5 January 2010

668 REM, The Zutons, IDLEWILD, Jonathan Rice, Cardiff Millennium Stadium, Sunday 10 July 2005

(OK I confess - this is not the actual set list! It's a download of the set from their website. Just wanted to share it anyway!)
Third of 3 scheduled huge stadium gigs this year, only this one wasn't so huge, as it turned out! We hit the road at 11, getting to Cardiff at 12.30 and parking up on the A470 road into the city centre in a free open-air car park to avoid the departure crush, then had lunch in a pub whilst watching the British Grand Prix! We'd wandered over to the stadium earlier, to find out that they'd "only" sold 33,000 tickets for this one, so they were only using half the stadium. An odd concept, but sure enough, once we got in on doors at 4, we found the stadium roof closed on this hot day, and a black drape descending from said roof behind the stage, giving this cavernous venue an unexpected intimate feel. Very odd!

Also unexpected was that as we took a seat stage right, REM bassist Mike Mills poked his head out from backstage, so I quickly dashed over and got my programme signed and a handshake. Result!

Singer-songwriter Jonathan Rice (who'd been wandering around the venue moments beforehand, and had actually initially been refused re-entry backstage!) came on at 5.30 prompt and peddled some strumalong alt-country which for me veered too much toward the trad stuff for my liking. Pleasant enough, but just bland hors d'oeuvres before some really tasty stuff...

Idlewild - appropriately enough given their "Green"-era REM influences - kicked off at 6.15 into a brilliantly chosen set of their moving, atmospheric rock. Opener "Love Steals Us From Loneliness" initially suffered from thin sound, but 2nd number "You Held The World In Your Arms" nailed it good and proper. By track 3 "Little Discourage" they were in full flow, spiky and dynamic, and the following "Modern Way Of Letting Go" had never sounded better, thrashy yet coherent and fulsome. "El Capitan" followed, big and anthemic, before Roddy announced that they were going to try "Sweet Home Alabama", duly bringing on Mike Mills to add piano while Roddy stumbled through the lyric from a cribsheet. Needless to say, this went down an absolute storm. Ending the set - far too soon - with a touching "I Understand It" and a huge, anthemic "American English", filling this cavernous yaw of a venue, this was a perfectly executed set from a band who have raised their game beyond sight of late, and are now fulfilling all their potential.

Weirdly enough, the Zutons were next, having 50 minutes to Idlewild's 30, and even weirder they went down a storm. Their simple, knockabout scally scouse pop was okay to poor, better than I expected actually, but what few cred points they'd gained with me they immediately lost at their final song, a self-indulgent instrumental during which the singer introduced the band! You're a support, bucko, no-one's here to see you, so fuck off!

No, we were here for REM - I'd booked these tickets 10 months ago on the strength of their history rather than their 2 recent disappointingly quiet and introspective records, so as ever I wasn't really sure what to expect, apart from variables! So they sauntered on at 8.35, Stipe immediately the focal point in blue and grey, with a blue stripe painted across his eyes, and straight into "Bad Day", their fast, frantic yet articulate post-millennial Bush rant, played with unexpected venom. What a start!

More followed, as "What's The Frequency Kenneth" rocked the joint before a brilliant "The One I Love". Surely they can't keep this pace up! Unfortunately, they couldn't - a slow, sinister "Drive", nevertheless full of mood and menace, heralded a downturn in pace and unfortunately passion. Don't get me wrong; I still totally enjoyed all the set, it's just that the mid-section, based on their more introspective recent work, didn't soar like the first clutch of songs. Never expected it to really, so no surprise and no real disappointment. Nevertheless, "Strange Currencies" was an urging, stately ballad, and "Everybody Hurts", dedicated to the victims of the recent London terrorist attacks, was fittingly poignant, Stipe's vocal cracking at the yearning high notes, bringing the house down with raw emotion.

The set then supercharged itself to life with an unexpected and awe-inspiring "These Days", from my favourite REM album "Life's Rich Pageant". Spiky, agitated and pacey, with Stipe kinetic and energetic, it breathed fire back into the performance. An anti-Bush "Final Straw" and a jagged, acerbic "Orange Crush" kept the fire burning before the inevitable set closer of "Losing My Religion". Easy pops preceded the encores, as the screens projected the tour destinations on a map, ending (as this was the scheduled tour closer) on "Cardiff" to huge applause. Encores featured a messy but welcome "Exhuming McCarthy" and Michael, a riveting performer throughout, giving quick plugs to Oxfam and Amnesty (for whom I'd already done my bit, having my pic taken for their campaign) before "Man On The Moon".

And the getaway plan worked! Home by 12.30 after a variable (as expected), often brilliant but always damn fine performance from Athens' finest; REM!

No comments:

Post a Comment