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Superchunk with Spider Bags - Union Transfer (Philadelphia) - Tuesday, September 24, 2013

26 September 2013

Though the title of their brand new album is I Hate Music, this past Tuesday’s show at Union Transfer proved (as if they need any at this point) that in fact the exact opposite is true of Superchunk. For a band that has been around since the late 1980s (and with the same lineup since 1993, though it should be noted that on this tour, able bassist Jason Narducy from Bob Mould‘s band is filling in for long-time member Laura Ballance), it’s so nice to see that after all of these years, it is obvious that they absolutely love both making music and being on stage. The primary evidence of this is guitarist/singer Mac McCaughan‘s incessant pogo-ing all over the stage with an energy level elevated well above many peers half of his age. Furthermore, guitarist Jim Wilbur cracks jokes between songs while Narducy, on the left-hand corner of the stage, mouths the words, clearly excited to be playing with yet another great artist. Other than McCaughan, of course, the other star is drummer Jon Wurster. Much like his performance with Bob Mould here a year ago, Wurster pounded his drum set into oblivion and between Mac’s pogoing and Wurster’s pounding, it was hard to take your eyes off of either of them during the entire set.

As for the set itself, it was a near-perfect combination of newer and older tunes with about half of the new album being covered along with last year’s 7” A-side “This Summer” (the set’s opening tune). and two songs from 2010’s career apex Majesty Shredding (a torching “Rope Light” and a version of “Digging for Something” replete with audience participation; more on that later). As for the older stuff, it was an almost greatest hits of their late ’80s to mid ’90s output with highlights including the venerable “Slack Motherfucker” (perhaps still their best known tune) along with “Hyper Enough” (with its ultra-catchy cascading riff almost drowned out by sheer volume) and the most seering version of “Detroit Has a Skyline” I’ve ever heard. There were no real surprises in the set (aside from perhaps “Skip Steps 1 and 3” from 1991’s No Pocky for Kitty and “For Tension” from 1993’s On the Mouth, their first with Wurster), though it was a bit unexpected that they didn’t play “Precision Auto.”

The encore was when things got even more interesting, though. With a member of openers Spider Bags (more about their set below) joining them on guitar, Mac took his guitar off and stormed around the stage like a hardcore punk singer as they played Ruin‘s “Proof” and The Misfits‘ “Children in Heat.” I wasn’t expecting to hear either cover (though I knew they covered The Misfits before on a split 7” with Coliseum when they did “Horror Business”), so they were nice surprises. Unlike some, I like the rare occasions when they show off their hardcore roots (see “Staying Home” from the new album, which they capably played on this evening).

As for the audience participation segment, I honestly found it just a little off-putting since Mac engaged the audience in singing (or more accurately, chanting) “fuck nostalgia” after a lengthy diatribe about how they used to stay at Wurster’s parents’ house after their shows here in the ’90s. True, they are making some of the absolute best music of their career and I’m just as happy to hear the new stuff as to sing along to the classics, but it is was just funny and ironic that right after that they played “Slack Motherfucker.” Their point is a good one, but no chanting of slogans is required here. Superchunk’s music, their longevity and incredible live performances (see my review of their 2010 show) speak for themselves!

The setlist for Superchunk’s set is here.

I had honestly never listened to openers Spider Bags (a North Carolina by way of New Jersey roots-garage outfit) until a few days prior to the show as I was curious about them since they were opening. I really enjoy their recently released Singles_ CD as it comes off like an energetic version of the type of stuff that bands like The Reigning Sound have been doing for years and that The Men have started doing more recently, but on this night they just didn’t move me. I have a feeling that they would just be much better off in a smaller, sweatier club.

 

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