The Music of R.E.M.

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The decades-long influence of R.E.M. was bountifully demonstrated Wednesday at Carnegie Hall, where 20 artists performed the band's music in an evening-long tribute. The benefit for three music organizations featured contemporaries of the venerable Athens, Ga., band and younger performers clearly eager for the opportunity to pay homage.

The set list largely eschewed the band's biggest hits in favor of comparative rarities. The music ranged from their earliest, including "Carnival of Sorts (Box Cars)," from 1982's "Chronic Town," to "Supernatural Superserious," from last year's "Accelerate."

Highlights included Jolie Holland's rousing "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville"; Darius Rucker lending his powerful voice to "I Believe"; and the Apples in Stereo's faithful take on "So. Central Rain," about which lead singer Robert Schneider proclaimed, "This song changed my life!"

The most idiosyncratic performance surely was Kimya Dawson's preciously childlike "World Leader Pretend," featuring a troupe of bizarrely costumed dancers, and the most moving was Vic Chestnutt and Elf Power's "Everybody Hurts," which began as a mournful dirge led by Chestnutt's fragile voice before building to a defiant intensity.

Patti Smith, proclaiming that "Michael Stipe brought me up when I was down, and I ain't been down since," closed the show with a powerful version of "New Test Leper" in which she endearingly flubbed the lyrics.

The guests of honor showed up for the encore, with Stipe proclaiming his gratitude before leading the band and Smith in a reprise of their 1996 collaboration on "E-Bow the Letter," from the album "New Adventures in Hi-Fi."

Other acts on the bill included the reunited Feelies, Bob Mould, the dB's, Throwing Muses, Keren Ann, Rachel Yamagata Guster and Rhett Miller. (partialdiff)
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