PILTON, England R.E.M. played hits and vintage nuggets, Al Green mixed gospel with classic soul and Orbital brought techno music to the so-called "jazz/world" stage at Glastonbury Festival.
This year's edition of the event drew more than 100,000 music fans to farmland in southwestern England over the weekend.
The three-day, multiple-stage festival also featured performances by acts ranging from Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers to Scottish post-rock instrumental group Mogwai to Irish popsters the Corrs to punk singer/songwriter Patti Smith (on the "new bands" stage, of all places) to '50s skiffle legend Lonnie Donegan, whom Paul McCartney of the Beatles has cited as a major inspiration.
In addition to dozens of stages, the festival featured vast market areas, campsites and all types of grass-roots performances from hippies playing guitars and bongos to DJs pumping out dance music on huge sound systems which continued long after the stages shut down around midnight each night. It was the sort of festival where someone could have spent the whole weekend without seeing a live act on the bill.
"I've had the best time ever," said Simon Mander, 28, a veteran of several Glastonbury festivals. "I'm wasted, I'm shattered, my head's in pieces, but this ... is always the highlight of the year. I'll be back next year."
Many festival-goers declared R.E.M. the weekend's standout act. Taking the stage at 10:50 p.m. Friday evening, the Athens, Ga., folk rockers opened with "Lotus" (RealAudio excerpt), from their 1998 album Up. It was obvious from the start that the band was revitalized and full of energy following a London gig earlier in the week.
R.E.M., which has been touring as a six-piece, played a crowd-pleasing set that included their 1987 pop hit "The One I Love," (a song "we love playing," singer Michael Stipe said) and 1993's "Everybody Hurts" and "Man on the Moon." Stipe made frequent forays into the crowd and sang so forcefully that longtime fan Charlotte Heathcote, 25, said she thought he was going to have a seizure.
R.E.M.'s encore included "Cuyahoga," from Lifes Rich Pageant, which led Richard Glover, 32, to say, "I've seen them every time they've played this country since 1984, and this was the best show ever. I was crying my eyes out. They've raised their game so far, nobody can compete."
Welsh art-rockers Super Furry Animals delivered a breakthrough set Saturday. It became clear as they played songs from their new album, Guerilla (due July 13 in the U.S.), that such tunes as "Wherever I Lay My Phone (That's My Home)" have already lodged in music fans' heads. They performed around sunset on an elaborate, cartoon-y science-fiction stage set.
Orbital, whose 1994 and 1995 performances at Glastonbury are considered among the festival's triumphant moments, were demoted from the main stage for their Saturday performance, and were forced to play on the jazz/world stage at the same time the Manic Street Preachers were on the big stage. They nonetheless drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend, which filled far beyond the modestly sized field in front of them. They played a selection of tracks spanning their career, from the 1990 anthem "Chime" to the recent single "Style" (RealAudio excerpt).
"I've never understood why they're so great live, but they always are," Ted Rushby, 27, said. "It's a travesty having them on this stage people want to see this, not the Manics."
Rushby's friend Richard Collins sighed and said, "I made the wrong decision. I went to see the Manics, and all their new songs were boring, and the sound was awful. It was a bad vibe."
After two years of mudbaths at Glastonbury, the crowd enjoyed mostly sunshine Friday and Saturday. Members of bands such as the Stereophonics, Pulp and Gomez helped populate a star-laden backstage area, where many musicians seemed to be as keen on hanging out and enjoying themselves as on performing.
Actor Keanu Reeves played a Sunday afternoon set with his rock band Dogstar, and they were greeted by screaming girls and a hail of thrown objects. He also caused a backstage commotion. "We were all fighting to get his knife and fork," said Shelley Wright, 19, who worked in the catering tent. "I was gutted I didn't, but he was so beautiful, it's made my day!"
Rain and clouds finally came Sunday morning, and the people who left perhaps remembering the horrible conditions of the past two years missed Al Green's blistering performance on the main stage after the sun returned in the afternoon. He played some of his '70s hits, including "Take Me to the River" and "Let's Stay Together," as well as leading the crowd in a rendition of "The Lord's Prayer." Dressed in an immaculate suit, Green ventured into the crowd to hand out red roses and lead mass sing-alongs.
Later Sunday on what was called the "other stage," the Tindersticks known for their gloomy, melancholy songs showed up minus their trademark suits. They showcased Motown-influenced songs from their forthcoming album, Simple Pleasure, which got the crowd dancing. They were followed by Mercury Rev, who, after nearly a year on the road, have transformed their live show into a slick, crowd-pleasing set that featured an arsenal of guitar solos from frontman Jonathan Donahue and guitarist Sean "Grasshopper" Mackowiack.
Mogwai ended the festival with a performance that drew on lessons learned from Sonic Youth's more avant-garde moments and the post-rock style of bands such as Tortoise. A weary audience received them rapturously, as Mogwai's near-ambient sound and stunning light show drifted out above campsites.
"I've never seen the point of them before, but that was an inspired band to put on then," Edward Jones, 29, said of Mogwai. "The perfect music to have a smoke and chill out to, just when you need it."