Last night, Hootie & the Blowfish singer Darius Rucker and folky Kimya Dawson proved that they had at least one thing very much in common: a love for R.E.M. They, along with 19 other artists -- Glen Hansard, Marshall Crenshaw, and the great Patti Smith among them -- came together for a benefit concert at New York's Carnegie Hall to pay tribute to the legendary Athens, GA, quartet with their own versions of R.E.M. classics.
Of the bands who gave birth to the '80s indie-rock explosion, R.E.M. are one of the lucky few to have made it through the '90s alive. The event was about celebrating R.E.M.'s many moods -- the strange mutability in their music that has assured the band's survival over a nearly 30-year career. There was the baroque pop of "At My Most Beautiful" and "Night Swimming," courtesy of Dar Williams and Ingrid Michaelson, the Top 40 balladeering of "Everybody Hurts," performed by Vic Chesnutt and Elf Power, and the jangly guitar rock of "Fall on Me," courtesy of New York power-pop legends the dB's.
With few exceptions, each artist turned in a performance worthy of the honoree. Calexico came through with a countrified "Wendell Gee" (from 1985's Fables of the Reconstruction), and as the evening's backing band, they brought warm harmonies and an easy-going lap steel guitar to a Keren Ann's gorgeous "Man on the Moon."
Still, the evening's best moments were often its most intimate. With his masterful acoustic guitar playing, Fink -- a UK DJ turned singer-songwriter -- pulled off a tense, soulful performance of "The Apologist" (from 1998's Up). On "Night Swimming," Michaelson -- accompanied only by an upright bass -- used a loop pedal to harmonize with herself, creating what seemed like 50 Ingrids swirling above the delirious audience.
The event also served as a tribute to the countless bands formed in R.E.M.'s wake. Some of the evening's biggest applause was reserved for Bob Mould (who with his beard and bald head looked eerily like Michael Stipe himself), Rhett Miller (of Old '97's fame), Throwing Muses, and New York's briefly-reunited Feelies -- all artists whose musical exploits owe a big debt to the Georgia quartet. "I love you R.E.M.!," Miller blurted, before rushing off the stage after his blistering performance of "Driver 8."
For Patti Smith, the connection ran even deeper. Before she and R.E.M. closed out the night with a casually brilliant performance of "E-bow the Letter," Smith offered a personal tribute to a beloved band and a lasting friendship. "R.E.M. the band has offered me much inspiration and joy," Smith gushed. "But Michael Stipe the man brought me up when I was down and I ain't never been down since!"
The db's -- "Fall on Me"
Fink -- "The Apologist"
Keren Ann -- "Man on the Moon"
Calexico -- "Wendell Gee"
Rachel Yamagata -- "The Great Beyond"
Bob Mould -- "Sitting Still"
The Feelies -- "Carnival of Sorts (Boxcars)"
Ingrid Michaelson -- "Night Swimming"
Glen Hansard -- "Hairshirt"
Apples in Stereo -- "South Central Rain"
Guster -- "Shaking Through"
Marshall Crenshaw -- "Supernatural Superserious"
Rhett Miller -- "Driver 8"
Kimya Dawson -- "World Leader Pretend"
Vic Chesnutt with Elf Power -- "Everybody Hurts"
Kristen Hersh & Throwing Muses -- "Perfect Circle"
Dar Williams -- "At My Most Beautiful"
Jolie Holland -- "Rockville"
Darius Rucker -- "I Believe"
Patti Smith -- "New Test Leper"
R.E.M. with Patti Smith -- "E-bow the Letter"