Photos by John Oakes; Words by Langen Goldstien There were loads of reasons to be at First Avenue on Sunday night. That’s what made it such a cool show. I loved watching people wander around the venue as I tried to figure out why they were there. Were they there for the music? Was it because they wanted to see a famous actor perform? Had their friends conned them into a Sunday night out on the town? Personally, I was there for a show that would be super different than my usual concert but I quickly got the feeling that I was one of the few in that boat (which isn’t surprising).
Opening act DJ Shane Kramer (of Transmission) knew how to get the night started as he spun 80s anthems that really got the older crowd going. I both loved and hated his opening set. I hated it because I had no clue where he was spinning his tracks from. Instead of spotlights on the stage, the stage was concealed by a screen showing the music videos of years gone by. I didn’t like this because, well, if I wanted to watch music videos, I could have just stayed home (which, as I continue to nurse myself back to health after a nasty bout of strep throat, wouldn’t have been the worst idea). At the same time, I loved this because I felt like it really immersed into a whole new world.
Sunday night was the first time when I really felt my age but in the sense that I was way too young to be where I was. As everyone was reminiscing over the music videos of 80s classics like The B-52s and Morrissey, I was entranced by the funny-looking music videos. I’m not naive. I’ve seen some of these heavy hitters of music from years gone by before, but I had never spent much time watching the videos. Some of them made me laugh just due to how badly they aged; others had me lamenting the fact that music videos are just not a thing anymore. Regardless of how they were hitting me, they were hitting me, and, as mentioned, it truly set the stage for what was to come with the headlining set.
Bear with me while I try and set the stage for the headlining act. There’s a lot to go over here, so let’s start with the main reason I was at the show- Michael Shannon. Michael Shannon is an actor who has starred in many of Jeff Nichols’ films, including Mud and Loving. For those who don’t know, Jeff Nichols is the brother of Ben Nichols- the vocalist of Lucero, and my favorite musician of all time (no shame). I’m not a movie buff, but I do know when a movie is good, and I feel like all of the movies Michael Shannon has touched, including the two aforementioned Nichols films and 8 Mile, Groundhog Day, Knives Out (the list goes on and on) are pure gold.
Now an introduction for Jason Narducy. Jason is a Chicago-based musician who has performed with the likes of Bob Mould and Superchunk. I mean, do I need to go on? This guy is kind of a legend in the music world and is one of those humans where, even if you don’t know his name, you know his music. I mean, heck, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters has been quoted multiple times saying that Narducy inspired him. So, yeah, Jason is a bit of a big deal.
Finally, let’s introduce R.E.M. You know the songs, you know the band, and you love their vibe, whether you want to admit it or not. Hailing from Georgia, R.E.M. is one of those quintessential 80s bands. From “Losing My Religion” to “Everybody Hurts” all the way to “It’s the End of the World as We Know It”, R.E.M. was and always will be a hit maker machine of a band. I’ll admit, their golden era was a bit before my time, and I didn’t grow up with parents who listened to mainstream music (I’m both thankful and not thankful for that) so I don’t know the obscure hits of this act and solely know the jams, but I have so much respect for the band.
Now, what do Michael Shannon, Jason Narducy, and R.E.M. have in common? Well, that was the show on Sunday night. It was Michael Shannon, Jason Narducy, and friends playing through R.E.M.’s 1983 album ‘Murmur’ followed by a couple of other hits. The reason for this seemingly odd pairing? A love of music and, specifically, R.E.M. It sounds a bit quirky, doesn’t it? I mean, a famous actor meets up with a famous musician to pay homage to a famous band. Honestly, it sounds a bit like a movie, but if you were at First Avenue to witness the show on Sunday night, you quickly realized that it was so much more than that.
Let’s call out the elephant in the room– I didn’t know many of the songs played throughout the set. Okay, maybe I didn’t know any of the songs played but that wasn’t the point. As Michael, Jason, and the amazing band they had with them played through an exhausting thirty-song set of all R.E.M. songs, I found myself completely entranced by their sound and performance just like I had by the music videos playing before said set. There was something just so informative about it in this weird way. I never saw R.E.M. nor do I think I ever will but this was damn close. At the same time, I felt like this wasn’t just a cover band. Sure, the musicians on stage were channeling the original band but there was this sense of it being more of a tribute (but not in the tribute band sense). It’s weird but you could just tell that every musician on the stage on Sunday night was just thrilled to be sharing the sounds that clearly mean so much to them to the packed audience.
The audience, unsurprisingly, wasn’t the most exciting audience to watch. The average age of the room was “retirement,” which meant that instead of sweaty pits or people pushing and shoving their way through the set, everyone was very respectful of everyone else’s space. Although it took me a second to get used to this calmer dynamic, I really appreciated it because it quickly became clear that, like the musicians, people in the audience were just there to be immersed in a world they missed or may have even forgotten about.
I couldn’t relate to the music on Sunday night, and I found it hard to really get in touch with the people around me as I felt so out of my element, but I related perfectly to the passion, heart, and respect that flowed throughout the air on Sunday night at First Avenue.