Michael Shannon & Jason Narducy
Great American Music Hall, San Francisco
February 1st & 2nd, 2024
Photos by Tyler King
When I first saw that the SF Sketchfest was going to be presenting Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy performing the albums Murmur and Reckoning by R.E.M. over two nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, my first thought was that this couldn’t be true. But following a quick watch of the duo and their band playing the song “Radio Free Europe” on Late Night with Seth Meyers, I knew that this was as legitimate of a show celebrating the two R.E.M. albums as there would ever be.
Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy took the stage on the first night with a band consisting of Jon Wurster on drums, Dag Juhlin on guitar, Nick Macri on bass, and Vijay Tellis-Nayak on keyboards to a crowd whose age ranged from fans who were there forty years ago when Murmur was first released to newfound fans of the band from Athens, Georgia. Vijay began playing some samples on his keyboard of beeps and blips before Jon Wurster hit his drumsticks together twice and the entire band launched into Murmur‘s opening song, the aforementioned “Radio Free Europe.” The biggest song to come from the early days of R.E.M., the crowd chanted along with the sing-along chorus, “Calling out in transit, Radio Free Europe!”
What followed was a nearly perfect note-for-note recreation of the first R.E.M. album. Michael at one point told the audience that he had been watching early live videos of the band to prepare for the tour and said that with only four of them onstage, they sometimes weren’t able to replicate certain parts of the album live. “But I’m fortunate enough to be onstage with these five amazing musicians,” he said, gesturing to the band and saying how faithfully they’re able to recreate the songs with their lineup. Of course some songs like “West Of The Fields” and “Sitting Still” went harder than their originally recorded versions, with Michael Shannon’s voice matching the live intensity of the instrumentation.
A special note has to be made for Michael Shannon’s abilities as a singer. Each member of the band has decades under their belt on their given instrument, with Shannon being the one musical outsider in the band that he’s fronting. And yet when I closed my eyes during a couple of parts of the performance, it was like I was hearing Michael Stipe from four decades ago. My friend Aaron, who is far more knowledgeable about the band R.E.M., saw some video that I took of the show that night and said to me, “He has the early 80s Michael Stipe down to a T.”
The band closed the Murmur set with R.E.M.’s rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again,” a song originally intended to close the album, before returning onstage to play the more unpolished EP Chronic Town that R.E.M. had released before Murmur came out. This might have been the best received part of the night, with songs like “Wolves, Lower” and “1,000,000” finding the entire crowd jumping and screaming every single word back at Michael, Jason, and the rest of the band. Following that was a shorter set of various songs from throughout the first half of R.E.M.’s career, including R.E.M.’s version of Pylon’s “Crazy” and their original “Country Feedback,” a song chosen because, according to Shannon, Michael Stipe had claimed it as possibly his favorite R.E.M. song. The night ended with an explosive performance of “Just A Touch” from Lifes Rich Pageant before the show came to a monumental close.
Despite the fact that Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy are touring playing R.E.M.’s Murmur, San Francisco was treated to a second show, this time with the band performing R.E.M.’s second album, 1984’s Reckoning. At the beginning of the second evening, Michael Shannon explained, “We originally did Murmur last year for its fortieth anniversary, which was 2023. And this year, 2024, is the fortieth anniversary of Reckoning, so we figured that we had to do that album too. Maybe next year we’ll do the next album.”
For the past ten or so years, Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy have put their band together to play one album in its entirety at the Metro in Chicago. They famously only do one full band rehearsal, one performance, and that’s it. But maybe because they had played a show the previous night they sounded even better performing Reckoning in full. If a couple of the songs from the first night got slightly more intense versions, nearly every song during the main album set on night two found the band delivering louder, more lively versions of nearly every song. “Pretty Persuasion” was vitriolic, the cries of “I’m sorry” during the chorus of “So. Central Rain” were nearly screamed, hell, ever the closer “Little America” sounded gargantuan. The only song that escaped having a beefed-up version of it played was “Time After Time (AnnElise),” arguably my personal favorite song from the album, which was performed with the perfect amount of tenderness.
Following performing Reckoning, again the band played Chronic Town from front-to-back, and just like what had happened during the show so far, every single song was torn through by the band. I’m telling you, the song “Stumble” had never sounded as intense and vital as it did that evening. Following the final song on Chronic Town, “Stumble,” Michael asked the crowd who was there the previous night. A good amount of the audience cheered before he said they were going to play some songs from Murmur again, with “Pilgrimage,” “Shaking Through,” and “Moral Kiosk” being performed before a few other R.E.M. songs. The band played the final notes of “These Days” from Lifes Rich Pageant and took their leave off the stage.
And that was it, as far as the printed setlists on stage were concerned. But the crowd didn’t care. They had just been treated to a fantastic show, and they needed more. Michael, Jason, Jon, Dag, Nick, and Vijay could obviously tell, as the six musicians eventually came back onstage to thunderous applause. “We’re going to play one more song,” said Jason before Michael responded with, “We’re going to play two more songs.” And what do you know? They ended up playing four. Three of them were from Murmur, so if you hadn’t had been able to make it to the show for that album, the band had treated you to half of that album on their second night. And let me tell you, “Radio Free Europe” had never sounded as triumphant as it did that night.
There was a period between songs on the first night where Michael said to the audience, “Last year I said something online and it went viral. I was in the Criterion Closet and I said how I was a ‘lucky boy,’ and it got turned into a meme. But you know what? I really am a lucky boy.” If you’re able to see Michael Shannon, Jason Narducy, and their band live, consider yourself the lucky one.