If you could transcend money, practicality, family commitments, golfing schedules and death to put together a dream list of bands willing to doff their caps to REM at a tribute gig, you’d have U2, Coldplay, Radiohead, a reformed Pavement and a resurrected Nirvana on the line-up. Such big names might be absent from the hallowed Carnegie Hall stage tonight, but there’s no doubting the abundant sincerity shown in tackling the two decades of guitar-based inspiration that REM have given the world. Yes, yes, NME knows that Michael Stipe and the boys have been going since 1980 (we’ve got Wikipedia too, y’know) but it’s hard to ignore the fact that of the 20 songs tackled tonight, only one is from the last 10 years.
To that end, faithful reproductions of early gems by Bob Mould, The Feelies and The Apples In Stereo all get enthusiastic receptions, but there are plenty of inventive deconstructions dished out too. New York acoustic-pop poppet Ingrid Michaelson takes on ‘Nightswimming’ using just a double bass and a loop of her own vocals, causing jaws across the room to drop in wonderment. Meanwhile, Kimya Dawson unanimously takes the What The Fuck? award of the night by having a troupe of pantomime weirdoes prance around behind her as she sings a quite gorgeous version of ‘World Leader Pretend’.
But it’s Patti Smith that we’re all really waiting for. Then the first lady of punk lives up to the anticipation by making a royal balls-up of ‘New Test Leper’ after forgetting the words, but soldiers on to finish the song and comes out of it all looking cooler than ever. Then, just as the crowd are getting ready to go home and dust off their REM vinyl, Buck, Mills, and Stipe come out for an unexpected taste of the real thing and perform a heartbreaking ‘E-Bow The Letter’, with Smith adding her vocal touches too. It’s a timely reminder that, if REM are
a heritage act, they still make their history come alive better than anyone.