I realize that I have a very skewed understanding of musical popularity. To me Superchunk is almost on par with Taylor Swift. I mean, not in terms of my taste, but like I think of this classic indie rock band as being in the same class as any large pop star in the psyche of Americans everywhere. Of course, I am sorely mistaken in my estimation. Because this band — a band who has made itself part of that indie rock canon over the past thirty-three years or so — didn’t even sell out a six-hundred-person room in the year of our lord, 2023. Which I found weird. And still find weird. But, hey, my Gen X brain is probably addled from years of guitar worship and self loathing (both Gen X hallmarks).
I forget sometimes how much I enjoy shows at Bowery Ballroom. Especially those where some sasquatch in a top hat doesn’t park his giant ass right in front of me. I’m not a tall man (nor am I a particularly short one), but having half the stage blotted out by some clueless asshat can ruin an otherwise good time. This crowd was neither rowdy, nor drunk. And was evenly spaced enough — especially as we hit eleven-something and the olds had to bail — to allow for a little freedom of movement and enough flexibility to have a straight shot of the band for the entirety of the show. Quite a different, and way more intimate affair, than the night before at the sold-out Alkaline Trio show at the 2,500 capacity Wellmont Theater.
But you know what happens with a band that’s been doing it for over three decades? They know how to make shit sound good. Of course when your lead singer, Mac McCaughan, isn’t exactly known for his classic voice, perhaps age has less to wipe away. I would generously call his singing voice… congested. But also high. And a bit nasal. It’s an acquired taste — and, frankly, may be what kept them from larger rooms and deeper fame. Because they write great, catchy rock music. But if you heard his voice in the 90s, it’s the same exact voice I heard at this show. He hasn’t lost a step at all. Or any of his vocal range or power. Or his enthusiasm. This is a spritely 56-year-old man jumping around, hittin’ that guitar hard. Guitarist, Jim Wilbur, did come out in reading glasses, wearing an outfit I could only describe as a retirement-home chic. That was a little depressing, but he is a man of a certain age. In fact, his fit was pretty similar to another rocker (albeit a much older one) whose band I saw live pretty recently, Bob Pollard. But their touring bassist, Jason Narducy, and especially their newest member, drummer, Laura King (Bat Fangs), presented a little more hip and certainly made the aging rock star thing work. Wilbur’s guitar work was perfectly fine, mind you, but his look didn’t exactly me feel less weird being in a room filled with old men.
I was unaware the band was going to play their classic album, On the Mouth, in order in its entirety. Apparently because it’s the 30th anniversary of the 1993 record. I was wondering why they were playing so many deep cuts, and it didn’t dawn on me that they were all from the same album. I mean I’ve probably listened to this release more than any of their other thirteen or so studio albums, so I was familiar with all of the tracks, but I still didn’t quite pick up what they were putting down until Mac said something toward the end of the set. But I’m a dummy. That all said, the band sounded tight, they played some of my most favorite tracks and showed a surprising amount of energy for a band at the end of a tour. I guess NYC just brings it out in people. It was the first show I’d seen in a bit where the audience bore its age a little energy-wise, but I suppose I blended. My feet did kinda hurt after a few hours of standing there. Oh, also, the opening band, Cable Ties, were terrific. And about a third of the age of the rest of the group who came on stage later on. Though they seemed as excited to be there as we were.