R.E.M. Royal Albert Hall, London

Hey, kids, rock'n'roll – even after all these years: They've been in the business for more than a quarter of a century, but R.E.M. can still pack a charismatic punch

Michael Stipe falls to his knees. Quick as a flash, some wag in stall G shouts, "While you're down there, Michael!"

This one-off R.E.M. gig, a fundraiser for the ICA and a public launch for Accelerate, their 14th album, arrives against the backdrop of the news that the band's lead singer has come out. Again.

This time around, the "news" broke in an interview with US magazine Spin, the New Zealand Herald picked it up and ran with it, and it rippled around an unsurprised world. After all, it feels as though Michael Stipe has come out more times than a flasher's knackers.

He first described himself as "a queer artist" in Time magazine in 2001, but there had been rumours for years, right back to the day in December 1992 when Nicky Wire saying "In this season of goodwill, here's hoping Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury" on stage caused such a pious furore (a remark that was misinterpreted, by the way).

It's been a long process. Maybe he'd been trying to tell us all along. ("Consider this/The hint of the century/Consider this/The slip that brought me to my knees ...") A couple of years ago, in a joint Q interview with Stipe and Rufus Wainwright, the latter began a sentence: "Since we're both gay men ...", prompting the former to quip, "That's easy for you to say." Now we know for sure.

R.E.M. always possessed a certain mystique, a band with other, non-obvious agendas at play, whether sexual or intellectual. (Those mumbled, gnomic lyrics didn't harm that impression.) From the Deep South they crawled, an anomaly even then, among acts from the Whistle Test-endorsed wave of Paisley Underground and New Country, despite the traditionalist chime of Peter Buck's guitars.

Their slight but definite difference has been sufficient to sustain the attention of a loyal following for a quarter of a century (and indeed to justify an irritating sacred cow status among critics), but if tonight proves anything, it's that R.E.M. aren't in the mood for resting on their laurels.

The way they rage into the set opener "Living Well Is the Best Revenge" is a surprise. There isn't an ungrey hair on the stage (and in Stipe's case, no hair at all), but close your eyes and you wouldn't think it. Wearing what looks like a parole suit, this funny little shaven monkey-man – he looks like the penultimate picture in one of those "ascent of man" graphics – is an unquestionably charismatic leader, leaning into the void so that his mic stand and body form a letter X.

"It's such a great honour to be here at Wembley for the seventh night in a row," he jokes, before praising the acoustics of the Royal Albert Hall, and the smartness of support act Robyn Hitchcock in choosing to play an acoustic set to match. "But you're not gonna get that from us. It's gonna be ... loud."

Which it is, relatively speaking (in other words, it's R.E.M.-loud, not Slayer-loud), as they clatter through Accelerate. It's often their more haunting moments, though, that hit the spot. Sixteen years on, "Drive" still feels like a bitterly ironic, reproachful epitaph for the entirety of pop culture, paraphrasing David Essex of all people: "Hey kids, rock'n'roll/ Nobody tells you where to go, baby..."

They're in uncharacteristically playful mood. At the end of "The Great Beyond", Stipe hurls his lyric sheets into the crowd (and then issues the schoolmasterly instruction: "If you have more than one, please share with a neighbour"). Bassist Mike Mills joins the fun, going on a spotlit walkabout up the aisles.

There's no "Shiny Happy People". Which annoys me. You can't unleash an earworm on the world, then disown it like it had nothing to do with you. In the way of hits, there is "Losing My Religion", its mandolin melody one of the loveliest in pop's history, the mildly annoying "Imitation of Life" (yes, Michael, we get it, modern culture is artificial) and "Man on the Moon".

As I look around everyone singing lines like "I'm pushing an elephant up the stairs", it occurs to me that had my life panned out differently, it might have been Stipe and not, I dunno, Morrissey upon whose every word I hung. And you know what? That might not have been such a terrible outcome.

Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments