A wide assortment bands and singers including Patti Smith, Kimya Dawson, the Feelies and Darius Rucker turned out at New York’s famed Carnegie Hall last night to pay tribute to R.E.M. by reinterpreting songs from the band’s back catalog before the erstwhile Georgians capped off the show with a surprise appearance and a few tributes of their own.
The concert — the latest in a series at Carnegie Hall and Avery Fisher Hall arranged by New York entrepreneur Michael Dorf — was designed as a fundraiser for music programs benefiting underprivileged youth in the New York area. Previous events held for the same cause have honored the work of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Sedaka, and Elton John and Bernie Taupin. R.E.M. were welcomed into that elite group with an enthusiastic set of performances, many of which were bolstered by country rockers Calexico, who served as the evening’s house band. Highlights included ex-Husker Du frontman Bob Mould retaining the incomprehensible beauty of “Sitting Still,” Glen Hansard’s uncannily accurate solo rendition of “Hairshirt” and Kimya Dawson managing to convert the cold-war era rumination of “World Leader Pretend” into a playful, xylophone-tinged lullaby complete with interpretative dancers dressed in circus costumes. Almost certainly a first for the Carnegie stage.
Inevitably, it was Patti Smith’s arrival that garnered the show’s biggest reaction and she prefixed her performance by saluting the “inspiration and joy” that R.E.M. have given her before adding that Michael Stipe “bought me up when I was down, and I ain’t never been down since.” Accompanied only by a piano, Smith then sang “New Test Leper” but forgot the lyrics halfway through, becoming visibly flustered in the process. “I learned them so good,” she laughed before regaining her composure and finishing the song in style.
Although it was billed as the final performance of the night, Mike Mills, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe emerged with Smith in tow for an unexpected encore. Sporting a beard that could give Joaquin Phoenix something to think about, Stipe returned Smith’s compliments by saying that the name-checking of Jesus in the first line of “New Test Leper” had been inspired by her rendition of “Gloria.” During the elegant, semi-acoustic version of the 1996 single “E-Bow The Letter” that followed, Stipe underlined his debt to the punk poetess by dropping to his knees almost in worship during the song’s final section.
The dB’s – “Fall On Me”
Fink – “The Apologist”
Keren Ann – “Man On The Moon”
Calexico – “Wendell Gee”
Rachael Yamagata – “The Great Beyond”
Bob Mould – “Sitting Still”
The Feelies – “Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)”
Ingrid Michaelson – “Nightswimming”
Glen Hansard – “Hairshirt”
The Apples In Stereo – “So. Central Rain”
Guster – “Shaking Through”
Marshall Crenshaw – “Supernatural Superserious”
Rhett Miller – “Driver 8”
Kimya Dawson – “World Leader Pretend”
Vic Chesnutt And Elf Power – “Everybody Hurts”
Kristin Hersh And Throwing Muses – “Perfect Circle”
Dar Williams – “At My Most Beautiful”
Jolie Holland – “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” (featuring Kyp Malone of TV On The Radio)
Darius Rucker (from Hootie and the Blowfish) – “I Believe”
Patti Smith – “New Test Leper”
R.E.M. – “E-Bow The Letter” (featuring Patti Smith)