A supercharged, breathless stomp through the past and present of indie punk's finest
There’s an expectation of diminishing returns with most bands of Superchunk’s vintage. Biological fact dictates that we all slow down eventually, especially those whose reputation was built three decades ago on a bedrock of unbridled energy. But if Superchunk have slowed down at all, it’s as imperceptible as the difference between 100mph and 95mph. You’re still going really f*cking fast.
So much of it hinges on Mac McCaughan. Superchunk’s frontman has never been the most punk guy in the room, even when bellowing: “I’m not working for you, slack motherf*cker”. His clean-cut Oxford shirts, ruffled greying hair and reedy voice would appear the antithesis of hardcore, but nobody rocks as hard as Mac.
From the second he steps onto Bush Hall’s stage, McCaughan never stops moving, ripping out searing, melodic solos and leaping about with the same abandon he’s shown for more than 30 years. Over an hour later, towards the end of ‘Learned To Surf’, he seems to be losing his voice. Nope. A swig of water, a deep breath, and he’s back. It’s contagious.
The ostensible theme for the night is a celebration of the band’s seminal 1993 album On The Mouth. The first chunk (pun intended) of the set consists of that record’s hard-edged, faster paced songs, the relentless ‘Precision Auto’ leading into ‘From The Curve’, ‘Package Thief’ and New Low’.
From there the band hops back and forth through their sizeable discography on what some might call a tour of their eras. It’s a crowd-pleasing litany of fast, hook-filled indie rock that shines a light on just how many scorchers Superchunk have to call on. Not many bands have the luxury of leaving out songs as great as ‘Detroit Has A Skyline’, ‘Me, You & Jackie Mittoo’ and ‘Crossed Wires’.
Superchunk’s roster has changed even since their last UK visit. Original drummer Jon Wurster has now departed and founding bassist Laura Ballance has retired from touring (her usual deputy Jason Narducy is on duty elsewhere) so McCaughan and guitarist Jim Wilbur are joined by Bat Fangs’ rhythm section of Betsy Wright and Laura King. The duo have slotted in perfectly. Wright struts and hollers like she’s been there for decades, while King is a force of nature behind the kit, even if she doesn’t match Wurster for neckwear.
While so many 90s bands bide their time for the next anniversary reissue and accompanying tour, Superchunk are releasing some of their best records and ripping up venues on a nightly basis. Long may this little miracle of a band run.
Photo credit: Mariano Regidor/Redferns