For actor Michael Shannon, all the world’s a stage for music

By the time Michael Shannon took the stage at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn Wednesday night, the sold-out crowd buzzed with anticipation of the Academy Award-nominated actor whose films include “Revolutionary Road” and “The Shape of Water” – the 2017 Oscar winner for Best Picture.

But Shannon – who is also a Tony-nominated theater actor – wasn’t there to perform Hamlet or Macbeth.

Sporting a black beanie, red pants and purple tennis shoes, the 49-year-old actor grabbed the microphone, cued his backing band and began belting out songs from R.E.M.’s 1983 debut album “Murmur,” writhing around the stage with the presence and vocal cords of a seasoned rocker.

None of that surprised veteran musician Jason Narducy, a bandmate and longtime friend of Shannon’s. He’s performed with seminal indie music acts such as Superchunk, Sunny Day Real Estate and Bob Mould and currently fronts the trio Split Single.

“Michael likes to challenge himself in the way that he tells stories through his acting,” says Narducy, an Illinois native who has also toured with Liz Phair and Guided by Voices frontman Robert Pollard. “So his singing is less like he’s trying to be a rock star and much more as a captivating performer so you come away from these shows pretty impressed.”

For actor Michael Shannon, all the world’s a stage for music

A tour poster announcing Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy’s tribute tour performing “Murmur,” R.E.M.’s 1983 album.

Pitch Perfect PR

What began a decade ago as a cover band occasionally performing early music from The Smiths, Modern Lovers, and Bob Dylan at Chicago bars for fun has turned into a nine-city tour performing “Murmur” with Shannon on lead vocals and Narducy leading the band.

The sold-out performances have garnered something of a cult following among music fans in hipster pockets across the U.S., taking place at legendary music clubs in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C. In Athens, Ga., Shannon and Narducy were joined on stage by all four members of R.E.M. at the 40-Watt Club, the musical venue where R.E.M., The B-52’s, and Vic Chesnutt got their start.

Though Shannon and Narducy took different paths to get here, the two share a love of indie music with a particular penchant for early R.E.M.

After becoming one of the biggest U.S. bands of the 1990s, R.E.M. disbanded in 2011 and hasn’t performed together since. So, when Shannon and Narducy began performing “Murmur” in full at tribute shows at small venues, longtime fans of the band took notice. The album celebrated its 40th anniversary last year.

“I love the record. I believed doing it would be a mystical experience,” Shannon told the Minneapolis Star Tribune last month ahead of a show in the Twin Cities. The star of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire” and the film “Knives Out” told the paper that trying to capture the full essence of “Murmur” is the biggest challenge to his stage performance. “I was scared like I hadn’t been scared of the other records, because I think there’s something in the music that’s very ephemeral and hard to capture.”

PHOTO: Musician Jason Narducy has performed with seminal indie music acts such as Superchunk and Bob Mould. He currently fronts the rock trio SplitSingle.

Musician Jason Narducy has performed with seminal indie music acts such as Superchunk and Bob Mould. He currently fronts the rock trio SplitSingle.

Emily Steadman

“He’s never done a rock tour before,” Narducy says. “He was just doing “Waiting for Godot” on stage in New York in December and then all of a sudden, he sort of jumps back on stage for this tour and he’s been a consistent performer throughout.”

For the 53-year-old Narducy, the tour also offers the chance to play with fellow Mould and Superchunk band member Jon Wurster on drums and guitarist Dag Juhlin of Poi Dog Pondering. Nick Macri of the Zincs is the bassist.

“We managed to bring together a band with some indie rock credibility,” says Narducy, who began his own music career at age ten when he formed the punk band, Verboten. The band is credited with inspiring Dave Grohl to pursue music and Narducy is featured in the Foo Fighters HBO documentary “Sonic Highways.”

Narducy says he’s been surprised by the turnout at the shows. The Music Hall of Williamsburg performance sold out its 700 tickets weeks before Wednesday night’s performance. And more than 1,300 fans crammed into First Ave. in Minneapolis, a legendary venue that was the starting point for The Replacements, Hüsker Dü and Prince – who featured the venue in his 1984 film, “Purple Rain.”

“The songs just mean so much to so many people and you can feel that during the performances,” he says. “It’s been amazing energy at each of the shows.”


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