What I think is interesting about The Decemberists choice to cover R.E.M.s “Cuyahoga” is the fact that they STARTED their live session with it!
You will never convince me that the Michael Stipe-penned environmentalist folk-ballad about the Cuyahoga river in Northern Ohio is of “Stairway To Heaven” quality, but for a group to go live on air and cover one of indie rock’s sacred acts right off the bat is pretty impressive.
It all starts with that unmistakable bass line navigated perfectly by Nate Query. And as the song drives on you notice that lead singer Colin Meloy is reading the lyrics as he sings in his vocal range, not Stipes’– a very important distinction that is more a show of respect than an artistic choice.
This cover is not a re-creation — it’s not even an informed creative force that motivates a new interpretation. This is a pure, note for note cover. And for those reasons right there, my friends, are why it succeeds.
*Little known fact: The Decemberists performed this session in February of 2011 which was one month after the release of the album “The King Is Dead” which features 3 songs by Peter Buck. Yes, the Peter Buck who co-founded and was the guitarist for R.E.M. Colin Meloy has publicly stated that R.E.M. was an inspiration for some of the songs on the album. So, there’s that.