Jason Narducy, Michael Shannon and friends brought R.E.M.’s “Murmur” to The Sinclair – 2/13

The actor/musician teamup brought their first-ever collaborative tour to Cambridge for a night of early R.E.M. deep-diving.


To the untrained eye, the notion of acclaimed actor Michael Shannon and musical jack-0f-all-trades Jason Narducy (of Superchunk, Bob Mould Band, Sunny Day Real Estate, Split Single and others) joining forces for a studious R.E.M. tribute tour does read a bit like alt-rock Mad Libs. Add a bit of background context, however, and the pieces start to fall into place. Shannon and Narducy go back a ways, as likeminded music lovers who have teamed up for a number of full-album covers sets in Narducy’s native Illinois. The response to their take on R.E.M.’s beloved debut LP Murmur last year (for its 40th anniversary) was apparently so rapturous that they started receiving offers to take it on the road – leading us to one of the more closely-documented tours I can recall in recent indie history.

Part of the excitement naturally stemmed from the tour’s Athens stop, where all four original members of R.E.M. attended and took the stage together (albeit without performing, at the same time at least) for the first time in a good many years. But even without that exclamation point, the marathon shows had a word-of-mouth buzz that managed to sell out every East Coast date. Last Tuesday’s Boston show – which featured a few very special guests of its own – lived up to all the hype.

Shannon and Narducy kicked off the night with the entirety of Murmur, of course, followed by the equally beloved Chronic Town EP and a swath of other early R.E.M. favorites. With backing that included Narducy’s Mould Band and (formerly) Superchunk compatriot Jon Wurster on drums, the ensemble took to the deceptively complex jangle of the material with a loving, near-obsessive attention to detail. They sounded incredible, in short, nailing songs and details even R.E.M. themselves struggled through (or simply didn’t bother with) in their early performing days. Narducy, always an electric presence onstage, was a joy to behold on guitar, while Shannon, whose voice is a slightly gruffer counterpoint to vocalist Michael Stipe’s inimitable Stipe-ness, confidently walked the line of reverence and self-possession.

Stretching towards the two-and-a-half hour mark over its 29 songs, the whole endeavor was an evident labor of love, made even more special by appearances from a pair of Boston music legends. Mission of Burma bassist Clint Conley joined the band for “Academy Fight Song,” a defining tune for the post-punk icons once covered by R.E.M., and Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley took the stage for “Fireplace,” a Document cut that made its tour debut for the occasion.

As a fan who never did see R.E.M. before the band hung up their spurs 13 years ago, it’s hard to imagine a live experience with these songs short of an actual reunion that would feel as satisfying. Personally, I’m here for Shannon and Narducy taking any other beloved alt-rock catalogs they see fit on the road in the future.

See photos from the whole night below, including a loopy and frequently hilarious opening set from comedian/musician Dave Hill (which also featured a Colley cameo), below.