Michael Shannon & Jason Narducy

Just over forty years ago, a little ol’ band from Athens, GA by the name of R.E.M. put out their excellent debut full-length, 'Murmur ', and the rest was...
Michael Shannon & Jason Narducy
Michael Shannon & Jason Narducy : Live

Just over forty years ago, a little ol’ band from Athens, GA by the name of R.E.M. put out their excellent debut full-length, Murmur (after their excellent debut EP, Chronic Town), and the rest was history. Basically, the greatest alternative rock band in the history of music, they did it all, from indie early days to major label hits to being snubbed by the Grammys for something old, all before finally calling it quits in 2011. But you wish you could have them back, wish you could hear those songs again live, whether you’re a Gen Xer who grew up with them or a Gen Zer whose parents grew up with them. So famed actor Michael Shannon teamed up with indie-rock utility player Jason Narducy to tour that record & much more, closing out at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg on Wednesday, February 14th (Valentine’s Day!).

The whole genesis behind this tour came from Shannon – an alt-rock fan who’s been seen at the likes of The National & Pixies, not to mention in a video for Lucero – annually doing a one-off Chicago performance where he sings an album in full, backed by Narducy and a full band. Last year, it was for the fortieth anniversary of Murmur, at The Metro (where Shannon was once seen watching The National ­– QRO live review); it was The Metro’s fortieth anniversary as well, and indeed had opened with R.E.M. on their Murmur tour. It seemed like just another one-off, but then venues started reaching out to Narducy about having the show come to their space (no one is bothering the guy who played the baddies in The Shape of Water and Man of Steel, despite him actually being quite nice & funny). A tour was put together, they even talked & played on Late Night with Seth Meyers, and it happened. It started in Athens, of course, at the famed 40 Watt, where all four members of R.E.M. were in attendance, and ended in Brooklyn.

Michael Shannon

Yes, it was an older crowd, including Americans with Disabilities Act seating under one balcony at the otherwise standing room-only venue, and many overheard remarks of, “When was the last time we went to a show together?” But it was also a sold-out show. Opening was comedian Dave Hill, who told honest slogans from Dollar Tree (“The only thing you can’t buy is dignity”), pick-up lines that only work in New York (“Are you the Staten Island Ferry? Because I’d like to ride you for free…”), and did a song about the (recent) first time he’d ever gotten in a fight.

But the night was about Murmur, about R.E.M. Whenever there are these ‘play an album in full’ shows (cover band or not), it’s a bit interesting that you can’t shout out requests, because you & everyone else knows the set list (at least initially – it takes a double-album to encompass a whole evening). For this night, it was particularly interesting that many people have probably last listened to songs from Murmur individually, not the whole album in full, front-to-back, in order, thanks to musical technology these days, as opposed to having to flip the record over back when. And albums are designed to be frontloaded, hits at the start to get you buy the LP, whereas regular shows are designed to be backloaded, hits at the end to get you stick around. One doubts that R.E.M. ever began a show with Murmur’s opener, their first breakthrough hit, “Radio Free Europe”.

But that’s what Shannon, Narducy & co. did this night. Of course, you were gonna love Murmur classics like “Europe” or “Talk About the Passion”, but playing the album in full let even longtime R.E.M. fans appreciate some songs they might have forgotten, or at least not listened to as much, such as “9-9” (Shannon doing the mumble part at the start, and the band doing their little jam at the end) or “We Walk”.


And there was much more to come – so much more. After the last notes of Murmur closer “West of the Fields” rang out, the group threw in a cover that R.E.M. played on the Murmur tour (and has been featured in the various Murmur deluxe editions), The Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again”, Shannon noting that he’d seen footage of R.E.M. playing it back then, and, “It looked like they were having fun.” Then the time machine went back even further, as the group did all of Chronic Town, one of the greatest EPs in the history of mankind, not a beat missed from the start of opener “Wolves, Lower” to the end of finisher “Stumble”.

Jason Narducy

And later on came Reckoning. R.E.M.’s sophomore full-length, Shannon described how they’d been asked to do two sets at San Francisco Sketchfest, but also asked to learn the second LP (Shannon had suggested a Vegas Globe-style residency, to no avail). Unlike Murmur and Chronic Town, the group didn’t do the whole album, didn’t do it in order, as the evening shifted to its looser second half. Their roadies and tour manager were invited on stage for “Rockville”, because of course that’s where they want to go back to.

Technically, that was the encore, but the band had taken the shortest encore break ever after “There She Goes Again”, and came back after a second very short break to do some other early R.E.M. songs. But “no requests,” because of course you wanted them to play what you wanted from the vast catalogue, but they could only learn so many, and they started with your correspondent’s request anyway, “Driver 8”. The rest of evening was dotted from R.E.M.’s pre-major label days on IRS Records, though included one from famed Out of Time – no, not one of the mega-hits, but what Shannon described as their “Valentine’s song,” the underrated “Country Feedback”. It all ended after two-and-a-half hours with one more classic cover, Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”, and did it just as sloppy and rambling as R.E.M. did to end their b-sides collection (one of the best b-sides collections ever), Dead Letter Office, the crowd singing all along.

If you’re reading this, you already know all these songs by heart (or you’re a really big Jeff Nichols fan), and this band stuck pretty closely to the originals, not trying to reinvent the wheel – you don’t try to outdo Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe. Shannon did note that, when R.E.M. toured Murmur, it was only the four of them, long before they could recruit touring members, but Shannon & Narducy were able to not only bring drummer Tom Wurster (Narducy’s bandmate for Bob Mould & formerly Superchunk) and bassist Nick Macri, but also keyboardist Vijay Tellis-Nayak and second guitarist Dag Juhlin. And sticking to the older songs, eschewing R.E.M.’s major label stadium anthems, was a much better fit for Music Hall of Williamsburg (QRO venue review).

Jon Wurster

On screen, Shannon usually plays the foreboding, soft-spoken heavy, and he can initially seem that way in person, tall, imposing frame and grim face. But he’s actually quite funny, such as mock-playing his scary role on At Home with Amy Sedaris. He was fully committed to his frontman role this night, but also had a number of funny lines (though the first time he tried, someone in the crowd, “Took the punchline out of my mouth”), from noting how those up front had got there early (those in the back were “delinquents”), that they could end after Murmur because there were a lot of things for the audience to do in Brooklyn, thanking the band that had done it all, “Hoobastank!”, or that they played “Finest Worksong” because it had been Narducy’s request when they didn’t get him a birthday gift on tour. And Narducy has long been a funnyman (up there with Wurster), such as how he had been painting a garage with his son when he got the initial call (his son was painting because he’s a teen and thus needs money; Narducy because he’s a musician and thus needs money).

Michael Shannon

Outside of Murmur & Chronic Town, there were probably songs that you’d wished they played (after “Driver 8”, your correspondent wanted “Cuyahoga”), over songs that they did play (“Time After Time” is my least favorite song from Reckoning as Pavement told us, but it’s full name is “Time After Time (AnnElise)”, and Shannon dedicated it to an Ana of his own in attendance). And everyone was singing along to everything (a few fans even got to take the mike for a chorus line or two), such as Shannon urging them on because it initially didn’t seem like they “needed this” for “Crazy what you could have had / I need this” of “Country Feedback”, to pretty much all of the rambling close “King of the Road”.

After this, Shannon returns to making movies and Narducy to painting houses (at least until someone band needs a bass player). But for one night, we heard the Murmur and more. Boxcars!

Michael Shannon & Jason Narducy

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