R.E.M wow Hyde Park

I don't think there's too much argument with the fact that R.E.M were in their prime musically from the late eighties to mid nineties. Since then it's been a bit of a vicious circle as they bring out a new record, claiming it's the best they've done, it produces a nailed on R.E.M classic or two but ultimately doesn't have a lasting impact and so it goes on. Ultimately though they can bring out a Westlife covers album with the songs played exclusively on the bag pipes for all I care, just as long as they keep on touring because they've certainly not lost the edge on stage.

The previous week's gig had to be postponed due to the events in Central London, and so it meant that the final night of the R.E.M world tour, that has seen UK stopping points at many of the country's major arenas, the Isle of Wight Festival and rather randomly Ipswich Town Football Club, ended up as this triumphant night in Hyde Park.

The opening quartet of 'Bad Day', 'What's The Frequency Kenneth?', 'The One I Love' and 'Drive' was class and the spread of tracks from different points in their career was a good indication of the sort of night they had planned. Visually the crowd were treated to a big screen on either side of the stage which alternated between close ups of the band and Michael Stipe in make up, fashion watch can report that this time out on stage he was plastered in black.

Of the new stuff, 'Leaving New York' and 'Electron Blue' were the pick of the bunch in terms of crowd reaction, the former every inch an R.E.M anthem, and the latter is one of my personal favorite singles to be released in 2005. Both of these prove that even if the album tracks of the past few years can, at times, have the air of filler, they haven't lost the art of writing stereotypically blinding singles.

If I were to list the older tracks that went down the best I may as well recite most of the set list. A random selection would include 'Electrolyte', 'Orange Crush' in all its orange-lit glory and 'Everybody Hurts', which I would imagine is the sort of track that is every bands dream. It's the emotive sing along classic that doubtless has a unique meaning for virtually everyone of the forty plus thousand inside the venue.

We were treated to a real mixed bag of older, lesser-known songs, which was a real bonus for the R.E.M die-hards, and a lesson for the rest of us. Patti Smith joined them on stage for 'E-bow The Letter', a track she duets with them on 'New Adventures in Hi-fi'.

As the night drew to a close the band left the stage with the crowd still buzzing from 'Losing My Religion', and returned for an encore that opened with 'Imitation of Life', which is about as sound-defining a track as you can find and 'The Great Beyond'. By the way just how much fun would it be to try and push an elephant up some stairs?

'Nightswimming' was next, which the Hyde Park Choral Society made another of many high points. Before the final sprint for the line Stipe took the time to tell the crowd how during the band's career they had been lucky enough to be in a position where they could invite organisations that they wish to support to have stands at their shows, one of those in attendance on this occasion was Amnesty International.

Appropriately enough as it was the final night and the big thank you round on behalf of the band, we had an excellent version of 'The End of the World As We Know It', with the night ultimately drawing to a close with the regular set finisher 'Man on the Moon'. OK so some of us won't be lying awake at night in anticipation of the next R.E.M studio work, but if it means they'll be back for more of the same live then bring it on.