The Music of R.E.M. at Carnegie Hall -- Concert Review

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York (Wednesday, March 11)

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. This 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."

Not surprisingly, the veteran acts demonstrated an affinity for the older material. The reunited Feelies delivered a ferocious guitar attack on "Carnival"; Bob Mould sounded eerily like Michael Stipe on his rocking version of "Sitting Still"; The dB's, joined by Don Dixon, well approximated the jangly guitars and vocal harmonies of "Fall on Me"; and Throwing Muses with Kristin Hersh paid homage with "Perfect Circle."

With Calexico serving as the house band -- and also going center stage with a country-flavored take on "Wendell Gee" -- many of the acts put a personal stamp on their selections. Keren Ann and Rachel Yamagata performed sultry, introspective renditions of "Man on the Moon" and "The Great Beyond," respectively, while Ingrid Michaelson lent "Nightswimming" a dreamily jazzy feeling. Guster and Rhett Miller each provided twangy, countryish tilts to "Shaking Through" and "Driver 8," while Glen Hansard ("Hairshirt") and Fink ("The Apologist") went the solo acoustic route.

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 of the evening 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 themselves showed up for the encore, with Stipe proclaiming his gratefulness 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."