Thursday, March 12, 2009

rem tribute

Patti Smith, the rock goddess of punk, just about levitated off the stage last night at Carnegie Hall during the final number in a tribute to REM. The event was an annual charity fundraiser produced by Michael Dorf in which an eclectic gang of famous performers sing the hits of one act.

In this case, the honoree was REM (Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills), and the performers ranged from Darius Rucker of Hootie and the Blowfish to Marshall Crenshaw, Bob Mould, Rhett Miller, Guster, Dar Williams, Vic Chestnutt, Glen Hansard (of the movie Once), and the sublime Kimya Dawson, wrote the music for the movie Juno and was accompanied by a performance art troupe The Moldy Peaches. Read about them on their Web site or Wikipedia. Amazing.

Anyway, each artist did an REM song, and really, Crenshaw got it the most right with “Supernatural Superserious.” No one tried any of REM”s big hits, though, so it was mostly a night of obscure musicians playing cult music.

Thus into the fray jumped Smith, who first tried “New Test Leper,” forgot some of the lyrics, started over and finished well. But then she was joined by the real REM on stage, and sang another song from the same 1996 album, “New Adventures in Hi Fi.” This one is called “Ebow the Letter.” I hope someone got it for YouTube. Something happened, and in the middle of it, Smith just levitated. She was magnificent, and sang better than ever in her vaunted career. Stipe must have thought so, too, because he crouched down next to her while she sang it, and looked like he was praying. The audience went, as they say in rock, berserk.

Just as a note: I remember “New Adventures.” It had no hits, came in an expensive box, and was a dud. No one liked it. Thirteen years later, two tracks from it stole the show. Go figure.

A plug: Proceeds from the evening benefited the American Symphony Orchestra, Mr. Hollands Opus Foundation, and the Church Street School of Music and Art in Lower Manhattan. …