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Monday, March 16, 2009

REM Tribute @ Carnegie Hall

more extensive coverage on these sites: 1, 2
3 and a similar 4

There are some times where your brain bypasses any sort of complex functions and goes from sight to natural action. As was the case when I saw the ad for a benefit concert at Carnegie Hall in tribute to REM featuring a number of bands that I've been meaning to cross off my list of people to see before I die. I saw the ad in the village voice, sat down by my computer, and bought tickets. And it was every bit as amazing as I expected. Not just the music, not quite just the location, but just the amount of artistic energy and mutual respect between so many great musicians I grew up on was indescribable.

I told myself that it was unlikely REM would even be there. That they were there and even performed was incredible. I had seen REM in concert before, but now I can say I saw them play Carnegie Hall.

Those who read this blog know I love REM. They are my favorite band of all-time, mostly because I discovered them, or their music discovered me, at the right time in my life. It was full of mystery yet accessible, sentimental and real. I own everything they ever did, and all the sorrows and frustrations that has entailed the past decade or so. Through them I've discovered other bands who have enriched my life.

Of the bands playing, I was most excited to see Vic Chesnutt. I haven't had a chance to see him before, and he's one of my all-time favorites. And to see the Mother of Punk, Patti Smith, as well as bands which music nerds like myself love to tell you to listen to like the db's, Marshall Crenshaw, the Feelies, and part of Husker Du. Bob Mould is a very tall guy, btw.

Here's the set list, with my impressions. Tommy James and the Shondelles were to perform, the aforementioned Mr. James had a throat infection.

I was impressed at the musical selection. The bands really did a great job picking songs, going for deep cuts which really brought out the unique aspects of their own musical styles, as well as spoke quite a bit about themselves through their interpretation.

One thing I did notice: some lines only Michael Stipe can get away with saying, or not saying, or half saying...

1. The dB's, "Fall on Me": A dissapointment. Then again part of the db's charm was their rather playfully disjointed sound, and this jangly song should have worked for the most jangly band of the night, but it didn't really seem too polished or creative.

2. Fink, "The Apologist": Degree of difficulty alone this was an accomplishment, to make this work, but that Fink (of Zero 7) owned it was incredible and a tribute to his talents. His minimalist take on a song that was made too complicated on Up! showed the talent of REM's songwriting, and how sometimes their arrangements can overshadow that.

3. Keren Ann & Calexico, "Man on the Moon": Played slow, Calexico really added alot by way of atmosphere. Vocally Ann took it too seriously.

4. Calexico, "Wendell Gee": Despite a sound mixing snaffu on the vocals, this was a perfect choice for Calexico, who are proving to be the best band at covering other people's songs of their generation.

5. Rachel Yamagata (w/ Calexico), "The Great Beyond" Pretty solid take on the song. Nothing too amazing.

6. Bob Mould (w/ Calexico) , "Sitting Still" The first person to really rock through one. A very faithful rendition.

7. The Feelies, "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)": Other than Patti Smith, probably the only band working when Chronic Town came out. That said, this could easily have been a Feelies song, and they really added some energy to this. A nice guitar solo, the first of the night to really take a chance.

8. Ingrid Michaelson, "Nightswimming": Voice and upright bass. Michaelson used a vocal sampler to sing against herself, in a complex and gorgeous manner. Album ready.

9. Glen Hansard, "Hairshirt": Hansard didn't use the aid of a mic, which was nice for a change because he doesn't need one. Loved the choice, not a great song to begin wtih, but Hansard really did a lot with it, using it to showcase his vocal talents and charm.

10. Apples in Stereo, "South Central Rain": The one strange pick of the night, a faithful adaptation played a bit too fast, and Schnieder's voice seemed a bit strange for the lyrics. Lots of energy though.

11. Guster, "Shaking Through": A great song from Murmur, that really is the most Guster friendly one I can think of that REM's done. Nice addition with banjo, but more than a few lyric troubles.

12. Marshall Crenshaw (w/ Calexico), "Supernatural Superserious": Ready for Marshall's next album. Seemed like a strange choice, but slowing it down and changing a few things turned this from a somewhat silly tune to a really poigniant one, improving on the source material.

13. Rhett Miller (w/ Calexico), "Driver 8": Should have been a great cover. Not sure if Rhett was drunk, but he wanted to play this like an early Uncle Tupelo song, and not quite getting to the mic for half the lyrics.

14. Kimya Dawson and ? (I think she said something like Thrusting Justice, but don't quote me on that), "World Leader Pretend": After a few uncomfortable giggles from her woman-grinding-on-top-of-car-in-Blue Velvet-inspired-dancers this actually was a strangely powerful interpretation of the song. An interesting dada-lite inspired juxtaposition between innocence and darkness.

15. Vic Chesnutt & Elf Power, "Everybody Hurts": As soon as Vic wheeled up to the mic the place was silent. Because of who was singing it, adding southern gothic atmosphere instead of strings, and Elf Power adding some great instrumental harmonies, this was the best version of this song I've ever heard, leaving me, and many others in the crowd in tears. One of the most moving musical performanecs I've heard in my life.

16. Throwing Muses, "Perfect Circle": Sure Vic was impossible to follow, but they sounded like they wanted to get off the stage as quick as possible. Boring vocals.

17. Dar Williams, "At My Most Beautiful": Her voice was too nice for this song, or rather she sang this too properly. The arrangement was pretty, but felt like it was lacking something.

18. Jolie Holland & TV on the Radio, "(Don't Go Back to) Rockville" Another perfect choice, and while it seems a strange choice, the guys from TV on the Radio really added some sharp vocal harmony in the chorus. Though, Jolie twanged it a bit too much at times.

19. Darius Rucker & Calexico, "I Believe": Whether you remember him as the guy from Hootie or the Bacon-Cheddar tender-crisp ranch commercials, Darius got perhaps the loudest ovation of the night after showing off all of his pipes and knocking this song out of the park, all the while showing how much he's borrowed his hand movements while singing from Stipe.

20. Patti Smith, "New Test Leper": It was a great choice. The connection between this song and her masterpiece Gloria, etc. And while she forgot the lyrics, and apologized for it, then started over, its easy to forgive Patti Smith.

21. REM with Patti Smith, "Ebow the Letter": The song REM and Patti did on New Adventures in Hi-Fi. Michael had a beard that made him look suprisingly old, but he got the lyrics and Smith belted out her refrain. Not exactly the best song to end the night with, but it was Patti freakin Smith playing with R friggin E freakin M.


erin said...

I am getting goosebumps reading this. Some of the song choices seem beyond perfect and I can almost hear them. I can only imagine how incredible that night was. I'm so glad you were there!

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