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Inside R.E.M.’s Surprise Appearance At Athens, Ga. Tribute Show

Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry made their first appearance together in 17 years at Michael Shannon and Jason Narducy's 'Murmur' tribute
Michael Stipe onstage with Mike Mills and Michael Shannon at the 40 Watt Club in Athens, Ga., on Feb. 8, 2024 (photo: Cameron Flaisch)

The four original members of R.E.M. have not performed together since their 2007 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, but they often show up to lend support at concerts by friends and collaborators who visit their hometown of Athens, Ga. Such was the case last night (Feb. 8) at the 40 Watt Club, when Michael Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry all took the stage with actor-singer Michael Shannon and guitarist Jason Narducy as part of their current tour performing R.E.M.’s 1983 debut, Murmur, in its entirety.

Reprising his performance from the Murmur studio version, Berry played piano on “Perfect Circle” with Buck joining on guitar, and the latter also guested on “So. Central Rain,” “Letter Never Sent” and “Don’t Go Back to Rockville.” Mills sang on “Rockville” as well as “Pretty Persuasion,” “Second Guessing” and “These Days,” reprising a guest appearance he made with Shannon and Narducy in July 2023 at Chicago’s Metro.

Stipe did not perform last night, but during a midway break in the show, he and the other three R.E.M. members joined Shannon, Narducy, bassist Nick Macri, drummer Jon Wurster, guitarist Dag Juhlin and keyboardist Vijay Tellis-Nayak on stage to say thanks. “We are so fucking thrilled to be here tonight,” Stipe enthused.

Berry stepped away from the band in 1997 after suffering a brain aneurysm, and R.E.M. continued with the core trio of Stipe, Buck and Mills before splitting for good in 2011. They have repeatedly turned down increasingly lucrative offers to reunite, but have been active participants in promoting a string of back catalog reissues in the time since. Stipe has also been working for years on his first solo album, but sources tell SPIN there’s no timetable for its release.

“It’s one thing to play R.E.M. songs in front of R.E.M. You can’t help but be excited but also a little nervous,” Narducy tells SPIN. “But then, throughout the night, three of them came up to play with us. At one point, Peter Buck leaned over to me and said, ‘All four of us want to come on stage to thank you guys for doing this.’ The band, their manager Bertis [Downs], their staff and their families all made us feel so welcome. We will never forget last night. Now we are even more excited about the last five shows of the tour!”

Shannon, Narducy and company are winding down the Murmur run with a show in Carrboro, N.C. tonight, tomorrow in Washington, D.C., Feb. 12 in Ardmore, Ma., Feb. 13 in Cambridge, Ma., and Feb. 14 in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Narducy admits, “needless to say, this trip has surpassed any and all expectations.”

“Last May, I was painting a garage with my son, Sean, and I saw that Michael Shannon was coming to town. Over the last 10 years, he and I have played shows where we cover an entire album,” the Chicago-based Narducy recalls. “We had just done the Modern Lovers at SPACE in Evanston. I asked him if he wanted to do another show while he was in Chicago. He said sure, but what? I suggested Murmur because it was the 40th anniversary of its release. We played at Metro and not only was it a total fucking blast but we started getting offers from venues around the country. It hadn’t even occurred to us to play shows outside of Chicago. It all fell together quickly after that, thankfully.”

Michael Shannon, Peter Buck and Jason Narducy on Feb. 8, 2024 in Athens, Ga. (photo: Cameron Flaisch)