Glastonbury : Pyramid Stage (Friday Evening)

REM pull out all their aces and even David Gray can't spoil things...

REM may go down as the biggest international band ever to play Glastonbury and, given the festival’s inclination towards indie-ness, sensitivity, optimism and political correctness, they’re the perfect group for this stage. Greenpeace videos have been playing between bands all day showing the world on fire, so when they break into ‘The One I Love’ with its refrain of “Fire” (causing so many thousands to jump up and down you can feel the earth shake) it’s like the whole day has been an elaborate build-up to that moment.

“Well, we made it to Glastonbury,” Michael Stipe says – the implication being, sorry it took us so long. The moment they walk on, they inject a glamour that’s incongruous with the mud and the smell still drifting from the toilets. It’s all fame, bright lights, expensive suits and production values, and initially feels like you’re watching an MTV video special on the big close-up screens. But that’s when you turn round and see – how many thousands? Fifty? Sixty? Eighty? Stretching up the hill as far as the eye can see, lit by torches, firelight, rocket flares. It’s a moment, and Michael’s in it. “I want each and every person out there to pick me up and lift me to another galaxy,” he says.

Is there a double meaning there? There’s gossip going around the field about how ill Stipe l,ooks. He’s even more gaunt than usual, with strange black marks on his face and under his arms making him look cadaverous. Could this be their last gig? That’s what people are muttering and, spurious or not, it adds to the buzz. Stipe’s trademark dancing style helps fuel it – he jerks spastically sideways, crouches on the floor to sing ‘What’s The Frequency, Kenneth’ and seems on the verge of falling over throughout ‘Losing My Religion’ (an amazing 50,000-person campfire sing-along). But Stipe comes to life as the gig progresses and, just before ‘Man On The Moon’ he bounds down to press the flesh with the front rows, by now stripped down to a sleeveless T-shirt. As if to prove a point, the encore is a raucous ‘It’s The End Of The World As We Know It’, Stipe roaring into the crowd, “… And I feel fiiiiiiiine!” He’s made his point.

[a]David Gray[/a] comes onstage just as everyone’s starting to flag in the gap between their afternoon tippling and their night-time partying, and under the circumstances his easy-listening maundering works just right. To be fair, he’s mostly ignored, even by the people down the front. They’re obviously conditioned to talking over the songs from ‘White Ladder’, having had it on in the background at so many dinner parties. Dull as the music may be, [a][/a]’s got a good line in banter. He asks after the “legendary clappers of Glastonbury”, exhorts the crowd to “fuck George Bush right up the arse” and whips up the festival’s sizeable Celtic minority with a (slow, non-jiggy) run through ‘Whiskey In The Jar’.

Suede aren’t new to Glastonbury, but it’s a while since they played in daylight. If they’re pissed off with that it doesn’t show, though. Looking fit and chipper, Brett tries to get a clap-along going and eventually succeeds, albeit in a way that’s more Butlins than block party. Still, the crowd go mad to ‘The Beautiful Ones’ and ‘Animal Nitrate’ and for a while, it could be any Glastonbury from the last 10 years.

Simon Lewis