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Michael Shannon/Jason Narducy + Dave Hill @ The Sinclair (Boston) - February 13, 2024

14 February 2024

Last summer, Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy got a few friends together and honored the 40th anniversary of R.E.M.’s Murmur by performing it in full at Chicago’s Metro. The two had a short history of getting together and playing tribute to some of their favorite records, with Lou Reed’s The Blue Mask, Neil Young’s Zuma, The SmithsThe Queen Is Dead and last year’s run through of The Modern Lovers’ classic debut showcasing their range as well as record collections but this was the first time that they decided to not just do a one-off and take it on the road for some dates.

Narducy is well known for leading his band Split Single and he’s been in plenty of other bands too, such as Sunny Day Real Estate Superchunk, Robert Pollard’s Ascended Masters and playing with Bob Mould. The last four would also find the excellent drummer Jon Wurster behind the kit, so clearly they have a chemistry that is stronger than a covalent bond (there will be no more homework in this review).

Shannon’s background was unknown to me but the trademarks noted in his actor IMDB profile include deep, authoritative voice; towering, imposing stature; and square jaw and wild blue eyes and I’d say whoever that writer was got the details 100% correct.

Rounding out the band was ace guitarist Dag Juhlin, bassist Nick Macri and keyboardist Vijay Tellis-Nayak and the entire ensemble did a remarkable job of getting every sonic detail right. Shannon correctly noted that when R.E.M. was touring on this material, the quartet couldn’t get the textures and sonic flourishes of the studio recording, like the muffled billiard break of “We Walk” or just skipping the beautiful piano-led “Perfect Circle” if the club had no piano to play. He also mentioned that when you play a whole record, you get the whole record, as the band played that short, slinky and funky breakdown at the conclusion of “Shaking Through.”

Right from the start it was clear that the crowd was primed for hearing one of their favorite records in its entirety, and seeing as R.E.M.‘s last concert was in 2008, no one is expecting the Athens GA quartet to do it anytime soon. Debut records have the benefit of being fresh and new but there is also the potential drawback of having some weaker material to pad out the album; not so the case with Murmur, a fully realized dozen songs that fit like a sonic jigsaw puzzle. If the crowd-sourced stats of are to be trusted, the band did play every song live with “Laughing” being the least played, still racking up 84 plays. Shannon remarked that “9-9” was a remarkably hard song that REM stopped playing in the ’80s and I’m glad that the band put in the sweat equity during practice to nail that one, for my money the best song on the record and one where the band bares its teeth and gets right after it; Mills’ descending bass line in the chorus is the stuff of dreams.

Anyone following this tour knows that the band has had special guests pop in for an appearance, and it was entirely fitting that the Athens show was the first time that Stipe, Berry, Buck and Mills were all on the stage at the same time in quite some time, albeit not playing. The Boston show got its special bonus when Clint Conley bounded onto stage after the Murmur material was finished. “Academy Fight Song” first found its way on an R.E.M. record via one of the Christmas 7” singles the fan club received. Shannon vacated the stage and Macri swapped over to acoustic guitar to let Conley take over the main mic and play bass as nature intended. Happy to report that the song has lost zero of its bite and fervor.

R.E.M. left no B sides of that era but Shannon correctly noted that Chronic Town preceded their debut, that perky little EP that first put them on the map and the band got right down to it. “Carnival Of Sorts (Boxcars)” was another monster, the arpeggiated guitar notes expertly mapped out by Narducy and Juhlin while Shannon delivered another powerful vocal. It’s relatively straightforward to match the tone and sonic qualities of instrumentation but the human voice is like a fingerprint and big kudos to Shannon for nailing it (and obviously watching early concert films, his acting background coming in handy to perfectly encapsulate Stipe’s mannerisms).

The kicked off a couple of weeks ago when the band did two shows in San Francisco for SF Sketchfest and they decided to use the second night to play Reckoning in full, so it wasn’t a surprise that the encore was filled with some choice songs like “Harborcoat” or “Camera” or the raging “Little America”; did Jefferson ever find his way out? And in the spirit of infomercials, but wait! There’s much, much more! Another encore fueled crowd singalongs to “Driver 8,” “Pretty Persuasion” and “So. Central Rain” before another guest came out. A testament to the abilities of this band, they learned “Fireplace” in scant time so that Dana Colley of Morphine fame could feature his sax playing. Finally closing it down with another of R.E.M.‘s most rocking songs, “These Days” left nothing in the tank.

Bounding on the stage with a “Let’s go, motherfuckers!” and showing that Pollard isn’t the only Ohioan with high kick abilities (and clearly both Shannon and Narducy have taken this schooling as well), Dave Hill showed sartorial flair by matching a lined jumpsuit with a silk scarf. Flashing police lights, nunchucks and a guitar that lit up were all part of the deal, and he was part comedian, part musician, full-on entertainer. Talking about pick up lines that would definitely work in Boston, he weaved corny come-ons with highly specific components of the greater Boston public transportation system. Colley would also feature in his band, along with a drummer and bass player as Hill sang a song he wrote about getting into his first fist fight. Join his gang, the Dangerous Snakes – they hate bullshit and I’m guessing it was a successful membership drive last night. Hell, I bought a patch, I’m in.