I usually start off my Superchunk reviews by
stating unequivocally that, historically,
Superchunk is one of my favorite live bands. However, looking
back, I've also usually stated that the
performance I then witnessed didn't live up to my expectations.
So, when I heard Superchunk was coming back I was faced with
a quandary: did I go out once more and re-live my misspent youth,
and risk disappointment? Or should I just stay home, pop in
Here's Where the Strings Come In, and not bother
with the crowd? Not surprisingly, musical optimism won out over
jaded skepticism and I decided to venture over to The Echo Lounge
and see what the band had to offer.
Despite the unusually late start (doors were at 11 pm), I was
running late. Therefore, when I got to the Echo, Matt Suggs
was already well into his set. Best known as part of Butterglory,
Suggs has released two solo albums on Merge Records. The first
one, Golden Days Before
They End, was a bit scattershot, but most characterized
by lush melodies, floating keyboards, and slightly loungey vocals.
So I was a bit surprised when his live set (backed by a full
and quite good band) reminded me a lot of early-70s Neil Young.
Perhaps it was the slightly syncopated beats combined some significant
guitar twang/distortion. Or maybe it was the way the keyboards
underlaid Suggs's drawling vocal, but all I could think of was
On The Beach. This isn't a bad thing; however,
it did make me wonder what Sugg's second solo CD sounds like.
If it's anything like his live performance, I should probably
go pick it up.
After a brief change over, Superchunk finally came on stage
and began with a rocking version of Florida's on Fire,
off their last studio album, Here's
to Shutting Up. I'll confess that it's not a song
I particularly care for. Still the band was playing harder and
more energetically than I'd seen in a long time, so I was encouraged.
But then, immediately upon ending the first song, they began
to play Her Royal Fisticuffs, a fast-paced number off
The Laughter Guns EP. This is one of my
favorite Superchunk songs, and as they began to play it, shivers
began in my ankles and traveled up my spine. As I stood there,
I knew I had made the right decision to come out. At long last,
I was going to see the Superchunk show worthy of my admiration
and (dare I say it?) fandom.
From that point, the set list traveled pretty much all over
the very length Superchunk catalog. They played older material
like Tie a Rope to the Back of the Bus, For Tension,
and Mower mixed in with their more recent releases like
Rainy Streets, 1000 Pounds, and Late Century
Dream. More importantly, all of these songs were played
quickly and forcefully, so that the energy from the stage (and
in the somewhat sparse crowd) never dissipated, but rather seemed
to grow over time. In fact, even when the band played two new
songs, people in the audience continued to dance and bounce
like these were Superchunk standards instead of newly written
material. This skill at integrating old with new is a Superchunk
trademark, and left me with hope regarding any upcoming recordings.
For me, the highlight of the show came at the end. After finishing
the regular set with a rousing version of Hyper Enough,
the band came back for an encore consisting entirely of old
material. Beginning with The Breadman and then continuing
on into their biggest standard, Slack Motherfucker, Superchunk
reached way back into their catalogue and the crowd reacted
accordingly by singing along and dancing. Then, for the final
number of that encore, they picked another old song, Throwing
Things, which I tend to prefer in the beautiful acoustic
form released on Incidental Music as opposed to
the harder version on No Pocky for Kitty. However
considering the fact that everything on the evening had been
upbeat, it seemed somehow appropriate and right that Superchunk
played the faster version. Nevertheless, Throwing Things
also sent chills up my entire body as the music washed over
me and I, too, began to sing along with the band.
Afterwards, the band came back out for one final encore. But
for me the show had ended with the final notes of the previous
encore. Nothing could top the exhilaration and happiness that
I felt having witnessed a sublime live performance of some of
my favorite music by one of my long-standing favorite bands.
The concert cleared my brain of the pains and disappointments
of the previous weeks and left me with the renewed sense that,
properly performed, music can be redemption.