The best show I've ever seen was put on by Superchunk at the
40 Watt Club on Halloween night, 1996. Before then, I liked
Superchunk, but the skill, talent, and sheer sense of fun displayed
that evening turned me into a rabid fan. Even as their recorded
output has changed (and occasionally disappointed), I've remained
loyal - waiting for the next live performance to restore my
faith in this band and their music. So, to suggest that I was
looking forward to this concert is perhaps a little understatement.
But before I could reconnect with the 'Chunk, I had to experience
the opening act - Merge labelmates, Spoon. Truthfully, prior
to this night, I've never heard Spoon. All I know is that they're
from Austin, and on previous albums they bore a passing resemblance
to the Pixies. Since I like the Pixies, and I have a fondness
for Texas fuzz-rock, I can say I was eager to see this band.
Perhaps I shouldn't have been. When I heard that Spoon were
influenced by the Pixies, I wasn't expecting note-for-note re-creations
of Kim Deal's bass-playing. Nor was I expecting the vocalist
to sound suspiciously like Soft Boys-era Robyn Hitchcock. And,
finally, I wasn't expecting to encounter a band which sounded
as if they'd listen to Blur one too many times.
That's not to say that Spoon wasn't a good band - it's just
that their music seemed to be composed of bits and pieces of
classic indie rock, punk rock, and new wave reconstructed into
a sound that was easy to digest and completely non-threatening.
Not bad for an opener, just not something I'm likely to seek
out in the future.
Then....Superchunk. They came out and quickly played several
songs from their more recently releases, and then mixed in some
older material, before finally introducing some of their new
songs. The new songs seemed to continue the quieter, softer
side of Superchunk, as seen on their last album, Come
Pick Me Up. Significantly, the new material reminded
me of the more acoustic storytelling style of Mac McCaughan's
other band, Portastatic.
As the concert continued, the set list continued to vary -
stretching from some of Superchunk's oldest material to more
new songs. However, as much as I (and the rest of the crowd)
enjoyed the show, this enjoyment seemed to be based more on
the recollection of Superchunk than on the performance itself.
By this, I mean that the band didn't seem to be having a fun
time - yes, they were playing well, and yes, the band was tight.
But they weren't having fun, and it showed.
But then, just when you might think they'd lost their touch,
Superchunk came out for a second encore and played an slowed
down acoustic version of Detroit Has A Skyline followed
by a rocked out cover of 100,000 Fireflies. And during
those two songs, Superchunk transcended time and place and used
the memory and recollection to demonstrate the vitality which
makes them one of the best live bands I've ever seen. It was
a sequence I wanted to freeze and have to replay over in my
head whenever I want to explain what a live performance should
And then it was gone, trailing off into the sounds of the next
song, leaving me desperately wishing for a pause button. But
the music continued, and the crowd danced, and the show went
on, proving that two great songs do not a great concert make.