I will leave it to others, perhaps more objective than me, to chronicle in detail the wonderful confluence of talent, place and material that took place last night in New York City’s fabled Carnegie Hall at the “Music of R.E.M.” tribute:
Because I was lucky enough to be there, here are some grateful observations from the scene:
-The people who put this thing together really knew what they were doing– the artists they attracted, from a few generations’ worth of musical history, were key, and inspiring and inspired, as was the place–Carnegie Hall, (need I say more?), and of course, so was the music– the formidable catalog of R.E.M.’s last 25 or so years of writing and recording songs. With those ingredients, and artists given free rein to plunder at will from the canon of Berry, Buck, Mills, Stipe compositions . . .
-In such a spectacular setting, well, it was bound to be a special night. And was it ever. . . . the songs ranged from the obscure (“Wendell Gee”, “Hairshirt,” “The Apologist”) to the familiar (“Man on the Moon,” “Driver 8,” “Everybody Hurts”) to the simply beloved (“Rockville,” “I Believe,” “Sitting Still”). Most all the band’s albums were represented although, interestingly, nothing from Out of Time, Document or Monster was chosen.
-Some of the arrangements stayed fairly true to the originals– others started with the R.E.M. song and went somewhere else entirely– like Ingrid Michaelson’s stunning looped vocal-drenched take on “Nightswimming,” Guster’s banjo-driven “Shaking’ Through,” Kimya Dawson’s “World Leader Pretend,” and Marshall Crenshaw’s laconic and breezy version of “Supernatural Superserious.” Some rocked (Bob Mould’s “Sitting Still,” the Feelies’ “Carnival of Sorts,” The Apples in Stereo’s “South Central Rain,” while others laid claim to the more plaintive, quieter moments– Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power’s “Everybody Hurts,” Rachel Yamagata’s “The Great Beyond,” and Dar Williams’ “At My Most Beautiful.” Not to single out any particular performances or moments, since in my mind there really were 20 highlights of that show– seriously. Each artist, from whatever era or connection or none at all, was there to honor the music and people who are R.E.M., and it was a deeply moving night from start to finish, from the dB’s at the opening fanfare of “Fall on Me” through to Patti Smith by herself (“New Test Leper”) and with R.E.M. (“E-Bow The Letter”). House band Calexico (interviewed in this fantastic article about the tribute) did a tremendous job providing back up all night.
-I know the guys were a little bashful about it, but I also know they enjoyed the heck out of it– the tribute part, the social part, and especially the musical part. Which was the point of the whole exercise– as Kristen Hersh sang “a perfect circle of acquaintances and friends.” At the end of the night, surrounded by the whole night’s array of musical talent, R.E.M. very specifically thanked the organizers, led by Michael Dorf, who put so much work and creativity into making this event work out the way it did, as well as the dozens of musicians who honored them by participating so fully and generously (see video below for speech). It was like the best part of a school reunion in some ways, and then there were a lot of new faces who had grown up on R.E.M. and were thrilled to be a part of the night. As were we all.
p.s. the setlist/running order:
“Fall On Me” (the dB’s)
“The Apologist” (Fink)
“Man on the Moon” (Keren Ann with Calexico)
“Wendell Gee” (Calexico)
“The Great Beyond” (Rachael Yamagata with Calexico)
“Sitting Still” (Bob Mould with Calexico)
“Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)” (The Feelies)
“Nightswimming” (Ingrid Michaelson)
“Hairshirt” (Glen Hansard)
“South Central Rain” (Apples in Stereo)
“Shaking Through” (Guster)
“Supernatural Superserious” (Marshall Crenshaw with Calexico)
“Driver 8” (Rhett Miller with Calexico)
“World Leader Pretend” (Kimya Dawson)
“Everybody Hurts” (Vic Chesnutt with Elf Power)
“Perfect Circle” (Kristin Hersh and the Throwing Muses)
“At My Most Beautiful” (Dar Williams)
“(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville” (Jolie Holland with Calexico)
“I Believe” (Darius Rucker with Calexico)
“New Test Leper” (Patti Smith)
“E-Bow The Letter” (R.E.M.)
p.p.s. The whole night benefited several music education charities chosen by the organizers–online contributions from the extended circle of R.E.M. world would be welcomed I am sure. For more go to: