A week later than initially planned due to the atrocities on London’s tube system, REM completed their world tour at London’s Hyde Park. When the concert was announced in late 2004, it was going to be London’s hottest ticket in town. However, a subsequent announcement that U2 were going to visit London and also Bob Geldof, meant that R.E.M.’s Hyde Park gig was going to now going to be the third largest date of the summer. It seemed that some force was stopping R.E.M. from making a claim to be the world’s biggest band.
Despite the hot weather, queuing already started the day before and was a must for anyone who wished to entertain a hope of being in the first quarter of the ground. If you were unlucky, it meant that you would be stuck half a mile from the stage behind 80,000 people. However, if one was prepared to ignore these inconveniences and watch the event on one of the large screens, then it was an entirely enjoyable concert…despite being nothing particularly spectacular.
The obvious highlight of the night was Patti Smith’s guest appearance for ‘E-Bow the Letter’ from New Adventures in Hi-Fi. However, even here the gremlins followed R.E.M. Poor old Patti’s microphone was too high to sing into and did not seem to be moveable, she subsequently forgot some of the words. However, some inspired ad-libbing and a generous crowd meant that the worst was averted. Other songs well received by the mass of people at Hyde Park included the obvious greatest hits: ‘Man on the Moon’, ‘Losing my Religion’, and ‘Everybody Hurts’ – especially poignant after the events of 7/7. A beautiful ‘Nightswimming’ and a delirious rendition ‘It’s the end of the World as we Know it (but I feel fine)’ were also well performed – at least so it seemed from behind the large screen to the left of the back of the field.
Despite strong performances, the concert was made the weaker with issues were to do with the ‘venue’ itself. Unlike a ‘proper’ stadium gig, 80,000 people were amassed on a flat field in a park in London. Unlike a stadium gig, the noise wandered with the breeze and was occasionally lost for parts of the audience. Technical issues aside, concerts like this can not help but illustrate that R.E.M. are not U2 or the Rolling Stones – admittedly they have never professed to be similar – but in order to entertain the crowd in such conditions they should have adopted some of the stadium ‘tricks’. This could have been a smaller secondary stage in the centre of the audience, more screens, better special effects, some fireworks even. But the simple fact remains that Michael Stipe is no Bono, Mick Jagger, or even (dare I say it…) Chris Martin. R.E.M. are easily capable of selling 80,000 tickets – whether they can make the majority of the crowd beg for more when the concert is over and race to the phones to order tickets when they return to town for another massive show is another question.