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 & Entertainment
film

Arts & Entertainment
Don (John Hamm) and Megan (Jessica Paré) Draper are going their separate ways in the final series of ‘Mad Men’
tvReview: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatre

Review: Of Mice and Men

Arts & Entertainment
art

By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work

VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
Leonardo DiCaprio will star in an adaptation of Michael Punke's thriller 'The Revenant'
film

Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar

Arts & Entertainment
Cody and Paul Walker pictured in 2003.
film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Down to earth: Fern Britton presents 'The Big Allotment Challenge'
TV

Arts & Entertainment
The London Mozart Players is the longest-running chamber orchestra in the UK
musicThreatened orchestra plays on, managed by its own members
Arts & Entertainment
Seeing red: James Dean with Sal Mineo in 'Rebel without a Cause'
film

Arts & Entertainment
TV
Arts & Entertainment
Heads up: Andy Scott's The Kelpies in Falkirk
art

What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?

Arts & Entertainment
artGraffiti legend posts picture of work – but no one knows where it is
Arts & Entertainment
A close-up of Tom of Finland's new Finnish stamp
art

Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings

Arts & Entertainment
Pierce Brosnan as James Bond in 2002's Die Another Day
film

The actor has confessed to his own insecurities

Life & Style
Green fingers: a plot in East London
TV

Allotments are the focus of a new reality show

Arts & Entertainment
Myleene Klass attends the Olivier awards 2014

Oliviers 2014Theatre stars arrive at Britain's most prestigious theatre awards
Arts & Entertainment
Stars of The Book of Mormon by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park

Oliviers 2014Blockbuster picked up Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical
Arts & Entertainment
Lesley Manville with her Olivier for Best Actress for her role in 'Ghosts'

Oliviers 2014Actress thanked director Richard Eyre for a stunning production
Arts & Entertainment
Rory Kinnear in his Olivier-winning role as Iago in Othello

Oliviers 2014Actor beat Jude Law and Tom Hiddleston to take the award
Arts & Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch is best known for this roles in Sherlock and Star Trek
TV

Arts & Entertainment
theatreAll hail the temporary venue that has shaken things up at the National Theatre
Arts & Entertainment
musicShe is candid, comic and coming our way
Arts & Entertainment
booksHer new novel is about people seeking where they belong
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal