Not so shiny or happy now: REM

REM Earls Court, London Hole Brixton Academy, London

In a documentary filmed last year, Michael Stipe was asked why REM wouldn't be touring their new album, Up. "It's not right for this record," he replied, unhelpfully. "It's not where we need to be as a band, out on the road, playing shows every other night." A matter of months later, the band are out on the road, playing shows every other night. What's, as it were, up?

REM's line is that they did a few small-scale showcases to promote Up's release and enjoyed them so much that they thought, why stop now? The more sceptical of my colleagues see the tour as a defibrillator pressed hurriedly to the chest of an album that is dying a commercial death.

My own view is as follows: who gives a monkey's? REM can tour because they want to notch up the air miles as far as I'm concerned. Ingenious and idiosyncratic as their songs are, they're also great for swaying along to in a big shed. And Stipe is simply one of pop's most magnetic front- men. Not only does he have the physique and the moves of a high-speed mime artist, but, vitally, he has the natural eccentricity to make wearing an apron over your trousers and wrestling your mike stand to the floor seem unaffectedly cool things to do.

The decor was quintessential REM: stylish, original and as meaningless or as profound as you wanted it to be. Hanging above the stage were layers of giant neon symbols - a dolphin, a phone, a banana, dozens of faces and logos. The band's local Chinatown must be wondering where all its signs have gone. But spectacular as this Pop-art installation was, if the tour's sole raison d'etre was to advertise Up, REM would have put on a much shinier, happier show than they did at Earl's Court on Wednesday. You could say that they tried to reassure us of their output's continuity, from the old favourites to the new songs. But they did so by making almost every song a fast, dark, moodily lit rocker, shuddering with fuzzy guitar and thumping drums.

REM are an awkward bunch. They gave us "Everybody Hurts" and "Losing My Religion" and other singalong hits, but there are a dozen more in their back catalogue which they didn't play and a dozen obscure album tracks which they did, not to mention a new song about "pushing an elephant up the stairs". Similarly, Stipe would say nothing to the audience for 20 minutes at a time, and then win us back with a charming quip - including a joke about an elephant, oddly enough.

The trio, augmented by three extra musicians, wrong-footed us right up to the finale of the two-hour show. The third to last song was "Parakeet", one of their slowest and most low-key. The second to last song was "Cuyahoga", which is tucked away on Life's Rich Pageant. And then came the last song - a romp through "It's The End of the World As We Know It", with every spotlight and neon sign flashing and Stipe jumping and crawling and rolling across the stage, hopping onto speakers and attempting handstands, as if he'd realised this was his last chance to use up his energy.

Despite - or because of - the departure of their drummer, Bill Berry, and Up's departure from the top 40, REM have retained enough confidence and wilfulness in concert to bounce between crowd-pleasers and crowd- confusers - and so they should. Just because Up is not jostling with the Corrs and Robbie Williams in the album charts doesn't stop its being one of the band's boldest and most beautiful records. If it doesn't sell zillions, that's not REM's loss, it's the loss of anyone who bought Corrs or Robbie albums instead.

Also in London last week was Michael Stipe's buddy, Courtney Love, and her band Hole. Onstage on Thursday, she even thanked REM "for creating me", but in truth, she is her own creation. She is the Geri Halliwell of rock. She asserted on the previous TFI Friday that taking off her top was a feminist statement, which seems very Geri to me. She also has Halliwell's need for fame and famous friends and Halliwell's paranoia about the British press. And the message she yelled over and over on Thursday was pure girl- power. "Don't be cool! Be enthusiastic, don't be cynical!"

I'm going to take her advice, because Love is an infinitely better teen pop star than Halliwell, and was probably the most divine creature that her hormonal fans had ever seen. Once she'd removed a pair of fairy wings from her back, she was dressed in only a pink bra and sequined pants. A former stripper (Geri was a glamour model and a game-show girl, so the analogy holds), Love was insouciantly regal as she promenaded across the stage, summoning girls out of the throng, honouring these subjects with a hug and then depositing them to sit obediently behind her.

It was impossible to take your eyes off Scarier Spice. Indeed, for whole Hole songs, the music went by almost unnoticed. And that's saying something when the noise was as ear-shreddingly ferocious as it was - much more raucous and raw than on last year's terrific power-pop album, Celebrity Skin. In other circumstances I'd dwell on Melissa Auf Der Maur, the feline bassist, or guitarist Eric Erlandson, the Addams Family's butler dressed as a member of Def Leppard. But on Thursday, Love was all we needed.

Some of her histrionics could have been a drama school audition, but I can't remember another rock concert when the air was so charged with all the things it's supposed to be charged with at a rock concert: danger, sex, the corruption of young minds, and the feeling that you hadn't a clue what's going to happen next. Just when you think you've seen it all, a firework showers the audience with glitter or Love beats her breast with a tambourine, or lets out a savage shriek, or stands like the Statue of Liberty on top of a four-metre speaker stack, or casually hands her guitar to a fan as a gift. The lucky recipient won't have been the only girl who went to school a different person on Friday.

Marianne Faithfull and Blondie were in London last week, too, but I've left myself no room to say anything except that both are more intelligent and dignified than almost any of their fiftysomething pop contemporaries. Thus concludes my blonde pop icons triple bill.

REM: Manchester Arena (0161 930 8000) 17 July; Stirling Castle (0131 558 9898) 19- 21 July

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game