Friday, April 27th, 2007

Finest Worksong

So on the night of September 12, 2006, at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Georgia, there occurred a tribute concert to the city’s most famous sons, R.E.M.. The entire story of the evening can be read here, but the upshot was that eight Athens bands spent the evening covering R.E.M. songs and the band themselves – including original drummer Bill Berry – played a two-song set and sat in with many of the other performers. The bulk of that evening’s performances, except for R.E.M.’s songs and a few others, has been collected on Finest Worksongs: Athens Bands Play The Music Of R.E.M which will be released May 15 and proceeds from which will go to benefit a couple of Athens charities.

I can only imagine how exciting it must have been to be in attendance that night, let alone being one of the artists performing – especially with the band you were going to be covering actually watching. It wouldn’t surprise me if everyone was extremely drunk and/or extremely nervous because to be totally honest because that’s the only excuse I can think of for why the performances on this record are so, well, I don’t want to say bad but there’s nothing especially noteworthy here either. While I’m sure that everyone who participated is a perfectly good musician in their own right, here they mostly sound like cover bands in a college bar, offering interpretations that are workmanlike at best, uninspired at worst. Patterson Hood is the biggest non-R.E.M. name in the lineup and the only one I know and to be honest, he sounds pretty bad for the first song or so before managing to find and stay in key. He does get it together by “Second Guessing”, however, and throws in an excellent R.E.M. gig anecdote for good measure. Also on the plus side, the song selection from most acts is unconventional and everyone seems to be having a genuinely good time of it. Maybe I need to knock back a few (dozen) Jack and Cokes and try to experience it thusly.

Mind you, I’m coming at this recording from the perspective of someone hoping for a decent and creative tribute record to one of his favourite bands, which it’s really not intended to be. Taken as a document and memento of one rare and special night in Georgia last Fall, it’s just fine – after all, this is how it sounded and the rough, bootleg-ish recording quality certainly adds to that vibe (I’m talking high quality, modern day bootleg, btw, not cassette tape in a jacket pocket-fidelity). I’m certain that anyone who was there that night and most people who wish that they were will want a copy nonetheless and proceeds do go to a good cause. As mentioned earlier, the R.E.M. set doesn’t appear on this recording but instead were already released on the 2006 fan club Christmas single along with a couple other songs from the show. But I’m a little astonished, now that I think about it, that there hasn’t been an R.E.M. tribute album yet, at least not one with a high-profile lineup. Or has there?

If you haven’t been before, you should visit Pop Songs, a newish blog from Matthew Fluxblog dedicated solely to the songs of R.E.M. And coincidentally, USA Today‘s PopCandy blog has been polling its readers as to their favourite R.E.M. songs (Q combines both these topics into one). Whitney limited it to five, so I’ll do the same – off the top of my head, “Fall On Me”, “Nightswimming”, “Perfect Circle”, “So. Central Rain” and “Find The River”. Oh man, that seriously doesn’t even begin to cover it. I guess I’m in a mellow-ish mood right now. But it’s funny how sometimes it takes hearing a song played… not well… to remind you of how much you loved it in the first place.

MP3: Patterson Hood – “Burning Hell”
MP3: The Observatory – “Feeling Gravity’s Pull”

And speaking of Hood, Nashville City Paper talks to him about the departure of Jason Isbell from the Drive-By Truckers and the addition of guitarist John Neff, who also played with Hood at the R.E.M. show.

And on the topic of covers – Pitchfork brings news of a new compilation coming out on August 7 called Guilt By Association which will feature artists like Superchunk, The Concretes and Luna (!) covering such generally unhip acts like Destiny’s Child, Take That and Paula Abdul, respectively. Luna covering Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. When on earth did this happen? Needless to say, I’m all over this like a fat kid on Smarties. talks to The Decemberists. Did decent recordings of any of the R.E.M. covers they were playing as encores during last Fall’s tour ever surface? I think they were Life’s Rich Pageant-era tracks.

J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr comments on the season-to-season inconsistency of Dawson’s Creek to Exclaim. I think I started watching the show around season two and yeah, it was horrible. And yet.

Drowned In Sound talks to Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes. They’re at Massey Hall on May 22.

Some more show news – Chad Van Gaalen is at the Tranzac on May 29 while Calvin Johnson and Julie Doiron team up for a show at the Music Gallery on June 30, tickets for that are $15. Interesting experience Googling New York City guitar savant Marnie Stern – instead of being taken to her website, I got waylaid here, with Google dutifully warning me “visiting this web site may harm your computer”. With guitar shredding, maybe. Stern is at the Silver Dollar on July 6, tickets $10.50. And finally, The Hives have been added to the second day of V Fest Toronto.

By : Frank Yang at 8:20 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. ned says:

    an r.e.m. tribute album came out about fifteen years ago called ‘surprise your pig’ with jawbox, jawbreaker, king missile, mr. t experience, band of susans, vic chesnutt, gumball, mitch easter…

  2. Jerad says:

    Well, Ned, you beat me to mentioning Surprise Your Pig. It’s a pretty good record, considering how out in left field many of these covers are, like the metal version of "Losing My Religion." I spent most of last night reading through the Pop Songs blog; it’s a really great idea. I see that one of his readers has already started the same thing for Talking Heads. And while I’m rambling, my fav 5 R.E.M. songs off the top of my head would be "So. Central Rain," "World Leader Pretend," "Find the River," "What’s the Frequency, Kenneth," and "Begin the Begin."

  3. brads says:

    Gah, get outta head, Frank. I’d have to put "So. Central Rain", "Nightswimming", "Perfect Circle", and "Fall On Me" in my top 5 as well, and rotate in a rocker for the last one. Today, I’ll say "Wolves, Lower". Kinda partial to the Untitled last track on "Green", too.

    Just finished the 33 1/3 book on Murmur, and sad to say it was far from an enjoyable read. Dug the new Stone Roses installment far more.

  4. Karl says:

    Actually, some of the 40 Watt stuff is posted on YouTube. I collected a bunch of those links here:

    An off the cuff REM Top 5? "Gardening at Night," "So. Central Rain," "Driver 8," "These Days," "Exhuming McCarthy" (or "It’s the End of the World As We Know It") and "Inside Out."

  5. Karl says:

    PS: If you search YouTube for "Decemberists Halloween," you should find some of those REM songs.

  6. doug says:

    I had Surprise Your Pig once upon a time — about all that sticks in my memory of it is an Italian language cover of ‘Talk About the Passion.’ And there was a band called "When People were Shorter and Lived Near the Water" whose name I adored. My top 5:

    I Believe
    Gardening at Night
    You are the Everything
    E-Bow the Letter
    Half a World Away

  7. toby says:

    Can anyone confirm if Hives are actually playing VFest? It’s not mentioned on the website.

  8. Frank says:

    The Hives were listed in the ad that ran in yesterday’s NOW, so I would assume that it’s legit and they just haven’t updated the website yet (it’s rarely up to the minute/hour/day anyway). But if you’re basing your ticket-buying decision on whether or not they’ll be there, then play it safe and wait a bit.