A 2 car posse convoy travelled down the M4 for this one, including last-minute addition Paul Crowfoot, who unexpectedly turned up at Level 3 the previous night and availed himself of our spare ticket! We parked the convoy up at 3, following a dazzling Ady diversion around Cardiff docks, completely avoiding the congested Cardiff city centre but still parking in the shadow of this monolith of a stadium. Queued up and got settled into the rapidly-filling huge bowl of a stadium, in time for the first band.
Prompt at 4, Belly, our openers tonight, entered the stage and burst into "Gepetto", following that up with a great selection of singles and choice cuts from the angular, shimmering new LP "King". I piled into the moshpit down the front and experienced their excellent, bright, dynamic 40 minute set of pure, clear college pop first hand, getting a soaking from rock guitarist Gail's water bottle in the process!
Met up with the crew afterwards, then took a vantage point to the back of the stadium, up in the Gods, for Del Amitri, next up. It's been 8 years since I've last seen The Dels, my old mid-80's favourites, during which time they've deteriorated from being bright, optimistic Scottish tunesmiths with catchy strumalong tunes and guitars in their hearts, to AOR-oriented cynical soft rock hairy hobos, with the occasional bright moment serving just to throw their mostly dodgy plodding rock material into sharp relief. Such was this set; the excellent "When I Want You" and "Stone Cold Sober" totally outshone the rest. Tonight Del Amitri equalled The Parachute Men in being the band I've seen "live" most times, but for them it was an unwanted record. I don't begrudge their success, it's just so very sad they had to change everything to achieve it.
Anyway, I then took a wander around the by-now very full stadium, getting some food during The Cranberries moody but dull corporate careerist angst-rock. The mix was terrible - too much bass - but at least it drowned out Dolores' irritating yodelling voice!
Back up in the gods again for mid-evening, so had a great view for the entrance of headliners REM at 8.40. In contrast to my last headliners at this venue - U2, a couple of Summers ago - REM had a sparse set-up, and no gimmicks, preferring to let the music do the talking. They hurtled into "What's The Frequency Kenneth" and "Crush With Eyeliner", two growling rock anthems from their new, slightly disappointing "rock" LP "Monster". Like U2, however, they initially struggled, both with poor sound and a slightly leaden and unenthusiastic atmosphere. Lots of repetitive wah-wah in the new material probably didn't help, either...
However, just under an hour in, "Man On The Moon" unexpectedly took flight, and suddenly the sound was sorted, the crowd hyped up and jumping as one, and REM responded accordingly. A superb rest-of-set, including a colossal "Losing My Religion", firmly stamped REM's credentials as not only a stadium rock draw of monolithic proportions, but a damn fine band in the process. An unexpected encore of "So. Central Rain" (this jangly anthem being 14 years old now!), following a heart-cracking double of "Let Me In" and "Everybody Hurts", was another highlight of a set with, overall, much more good than bad, and a final, breathless "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" sent everyone - including me! - home happy!