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Show report: Michael Shannon sings R.E.M.

Show report: Michael Shannon sings R.E.M.

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Have you ever loved a band so much you just wanna just live inside their music? I've felt that way about R.E.M. for most of my life. Their albums -- tapes, if we're getting specific -- were the soundtrack to my algebra homework, backseat trips to Grandma's, first dates, breakups, college hijinks, low-paying day jobs and all the rest. So yeah, when I heard Michael Shannon would be part of a band performing R.E.M.'s FABLES OF THE RECONSTRUCTION from start to finish, I was in.

Shannon never disappoints onscreen -- he's usually the best part of every film he's in --  and that cool focus translates to a rock show. (His former band, Corporal, released a record in 2010.) Among those joining him onstage were Ray Rizzo, Lauren Balthrop, Pascal Balthrop, Annie Nero, Rob Heath, and Michael Quoma -- and as if that lineup weren't sweet enough, Michael Arthur's lyric-inspired drawings were projected behind the band as he sketched them.  

Shannon's event-appropriate ensemble included a shirt he wrote on with a Sharpie, Stipe-style; mismatched socks and sunglasses with one lens missing. "I know it's early; I know we're all still shaking off that turkey thing," he told the 150-ish of us seated at Joe's Pub. It was barely 7 p.m.; the booze hadn't kicked in yet.

Sound-wise, each track remained blissfully true to the album, from the sax bursts on "Can't Get There From Here" to the still-astounding "Live and How to Live It," which I contend is one of the band's all-time best. And yes, Shannon can sing -- both he and Stipe have a way to make the unintelligible feel romantic -- but, maybe more importantly, he sounded like someone who had spent hours upon hours upon decades listening to this record, just like the rest of us. 

"It's crazy how these things that meant so much to you, they're only a half-hour long ... like All in the Family," he joked. FABLES clocks in at just 39 minutes, which meant the show would end in time for many concertgoers to tuck their kids into bed.  

During the album's final song, the banjo-sweet "Wendell Gee," Shannon roamed into the crowd, seemingly enjoying the moment as much as we were. That night I kept looking around the room, half-hoping to see Michael Stipe in disguise. But the reality was better: a father and teen son lip-synced in the front row. A woman behind me sang backup vocals on every song. A gray-haired guy strummed his fingers as if, in his mind, he were onstage playing the chords.  
Though I wish this event were part of a series, it was a one-time-only kind of night. Shannon reminded us that it's been 10 years since R.E.M.'s final show. "We miss them," he said. "That's why we do things like this."

A short encore pulled in other beloved tracks: "Fall on Me," "Pilgrimage," "Near Wild Heaven." And as the band literally sang the words "living inside, living inside" over and over, we all nodded our heads and closed our eyes, happy to spend just a few more minutes in this chaotic world existing inside these perfect songs. 

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