R.E.M. Up & Down In Europe

The shows have been getting rave reviews but hardly any critics have failed to mention that R.E.M. isn’t pulling the sort of crowds some might have expected.

Ticket sales for the Accelerate tour appear to be patchy throughout most of mainland Europe.

Following the opening shows of the current run – the second leg of a two-part European tour that included festival appearances at Frequency in Austria and Sziget in Hungary – a few dates were moved to smaller rooms.

The August 25 show was downsized from the 35,000-capacity Cardiff Millennium Stadium to the nearby 7,500-capacity International Arena.

As all of the reported 18,500 who bought tickets for the outdoor stadium couldn’t fit in the International Arena, some were offered a ticket for the outdoor London Twickenham Park show August 30 with the added bonus of getting an extra ticket free.

The U.K. looks like one of the tour’s high spots, as Toby Leighton-Pope of Live Nation, which promoted Cardiff, Twickenham, Southampton and Manchester, said the shows did close to what he expected.

He said the newspapers failed to consider that he never intended to use the top-tier seats at Twickenham and he configured the venue for a smaller capacity.

“We set it up according to what we thought it would sell,” he told Pollstar. He said that’s what LN did at Lancashire County Cricket Ground in Manchester August 24 – a co-promotion with SJM Concerts – where he was able to use only a 25,000-capacity area because part of the pitch was being re-turfed.

He also said he was happy to do 18,000 of a possible 22,000 at Southampton Cricket Ground August 27, and said the Cardiff disappointment was thanks to the market being particularly flat in that region.

In mainland Europe, sales were solid in some spots as Copenhagen Parken (September 6) was only 6,000 short of selling out its 36,700 capacity with four days to go. But others didn’t fare as well, like the Oslo show three days earlier, which was moved from the 28,000-capacity Ulleval Stadium to the 12,500-capacity Valhall.

The other Norwegian show in Bergen September 4 did better and was close to selling out the 20,000-capacity Koengen Stadium, but two Scandinavian capitals – Stockholm and Helsinki – were not at that level.

In Germany, where the August show in Stuttgart sold out and Loreley and Wurzburg fell short, the upcoming September shows in Oberhausen, Hamburg and Munich still have a ways to go to prevent the promoters from taking a loss.

Hamburg started particularly slowly, as Coldplay put its Colorline Arena show on sale at about the same time as R.E.M.’s show in the same venue.

In France, where the band headlined Rock En Seine Festival August 28 and had Kaiser Chiefs, Serj Tankian, Hot Chip and Apocalyptica in support, the crowd was at 15,000 of its 25,000 capacity. The following day was sold out for Amy Winehouse, although promoter Salomon Hazot was forced to tell the crowd she would not be performing.

“I’m not sitting here rubbing my hands, but I’m certainly not tearing my hair out,” said Bob Gold, who represents the act in Europe.

The Gold Artists Agency chief blamed any shortfalls on too many acts touring during the summer.

Although he conceded that the sort of financial guarantees an act of R.E.M.’s stature requires means some of the European promoters will be out of pocket, he said overall he believes the numbers are holding up very well.

In places where they’re not, such as The Baltics, Gold said it’s because the markets are slow.

“It’s not like 2005 or the previous years when we sold out in half an hour, but the act is getting fantastic reviews,” he said.

Recent Baltic visits from Bob Dylan and Lou Reed drew disappointing crowds and The Sex Pistols’ Tallinn gig had to be scrapped because of poor sales.

R.E.M.’s show at The Riga Arena in Latvia (September 12) and the Siemens Arena in Lithuania (September 14) had done about half of the 10,000 tickets each has available, but the 9,000-capacity Saku Arena in Estonia is struggling.

It had only sold a little more than 1,000 tickets for September 11 and, thanks to a lack of mid-size venues in the region, it’s difficult to move to a smaller room.

After the second German leg of the current European run, R.E.M. is set to move on to Switzerland and Italy – where Gold is reporting much stronger sales – followed by Spain, Greece and Turkey.