Live: Superchunk Are Just Great at Bowery


At Other Music on Sunday

Bowery Ballroom
Saturday, September 18

Better than: The entire genre of chillwave.

Let’s start with “Driveway to Driveway,” the first song of Superchunk’s first of two encores this Saturday night, and overwhelmingly triumphant for a onetime landmine that seemed pretty clearly, then and now, about the 1993 breakup between this band’s frontman, Mac McCaughan, and its bassist, Laura Ballance. (She used to cry onstage when they performed it, circa Foolish.) Tonight, though, it inspires perhaps the most unhinged audience singalong of the evening, no mean feat, and is as good a sign as any that things seem pretty different for Superchunk lately, extremely justified, don’t-call-it-a-comeback odes to this band’s great new album, Majesty Shredding aside. They arrive at Bowery from last night’s gig in DC fresh off a plane, the van with the gear in it trailing behind, and tomorrow they’ll play another sold-out show, this one at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. So yeah–this is not the Superchunk you’ve been ignoring for the last decade.

And it’s been heartening, seeing how many people still care about this band in 2010, not least because the band has survived more than you think it has. There was the early nineties, grunge-fueled indie gold rush, which had the band’s native Chapel Hill pegged as the next Seattle, and Superchunk as the next Nirvana. Later came the dissolution, with the disbandings of fellow travelers Pavement and Dinosaur Jr., of an indie milieu which had once positioned Superchunk for something resembling sustainable success. (Insert your joke about the fact that two of these three bands played sold-out shows in NYC this weekend below.) In this century, McCaughan and Ballance have had to deal with the growing profile of their label, Merge, and the bands not named Superchunk on it. Just a month ago, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs gleaned the label its first Billboard #1 in more than two decades of operation, after near misses earlier this year from fellow Merge acts Spoon and She & Him. Superchunk, it seems safe to say, will never crack the top ten.

But they seem to be getting airfare out of the deal, at least. At Bowery, they come out bounding, beatific, well rested, playing, in rapid succession, new album burner “Learned to Surf,” Indoor Living curio “Burn Last Sunday” (back catalog being something this band is not shy about), and a song that means a lot to me and most of the people standing within five or ten feet of me, if not everyone here, “Detroit Has a Skyline,” which if somehow you haven’t indulged, please use this link to remedy that fact. Somewhere around here we’d round out the rest of the setlist, but Superchunk turn out to be adaptive in more ways than one, and thus by the time we’ve woken up the next day they’ve already posted it on Twitter.

And so instead let’s call it the blur that it was: a ragged, less single-y version of “Digging For Something,” guitarist Jim Wilbur saying something to the effect of “If I were a millionaire…” and being loyally booed, hilariously, before he can even finish the rest of it, jokes about iPhone apps and how old everyone is in the room (“Every show I’m at with young people, they fuck it up,” someone says), a kind of call and response between older stalwarts (“Punch Me Harder,” “Cast Iron,” “For Tension”) and newer anthems (“My Gap Feels Weird,” with its apt line about time and transition putting you over, “Crossed Wires”), and a song that was written to close sets by a twenty year old band, the minutes/months-counting, Majesty Shredding-ending “Everything at Once.”

But of course they’re not actually finished, and so after “Driveway to Driveway” but before “Slack Motherfucker” and a good-natured second encore comes “100,000 Fireflies,” the band’s well-traveled Magnetic Fields cover turned subliminal kiss off to former Merge guy Stephin Merritt, now living in Los Angeles, a guy who hates loud noises anyway, and this is maybe as loud as Superchunk get all night, hundreds of people shouting the bit about turning up the tone on your electric guitar straight back at the band, the coda appropriate but dead wrong tonight: “All our friends are in New York/Why do we keep shrieking when we mean soft things/We should be whispering all the time.” They are, and they do, but they shouldn’t, and they aren’t, and thank god.

Author Bias: We may or may not have had significant romantic adventures while listening to some of these songs the first time around.

Overheard: McCaughan: “We were kind of moaning and bitching before about how tired we were–”
Audience Member: “–Like us!”

Random Notebook Dump: Does spilling beer on the phone you’re using to take notes count?