Superchunk Jumps Back to Life


Until Sunday’s show at the Taste of Randolph Street, it had been a long time since I’d seen Superchunk. I’d seen the band only once before — on Nov. 8, 1991, when the still-young group from Chapel Hill, N.C., opened for the Mekons at Cabaret Metro in Chicago. Don’t ask me for details about that show. I remember barely anything about that performance by Superchunk other than the fact that I liked it. Ah, if only I had been blogging then — maybe I would have jotted down at least a few thoughts about it.

In the 19 years since that show, Superchunk built a loyal if small following of fans with its fuzz-drenched guitar and bright pop melodies. Lead singer and guitarist Mac McCaughan also formed the band Portastatic — and he started a record label that would become one of the most successful in the indie-rock world, Merge. Superchunk has apparently been on hiatus at times, but the group’s back, with a new album, Majesty Shredding, scheduled to come out in September.

On Sunday (June 20), Superchunk came to play in Chicago for the first time in some years, headlining at the Taste of Randolph Street Festival. The band played with the spirit and energy of musicians half their age. McCaughan was especially exuberant, bouncing up and down almost all night long. Mac likes to jump as he plays guitar, and he never seemed to tire from the gymnastics. Bassist Laura Ballance shook her hair and bounced a fair amount, too, and everyone — including drummer Jon Wurster and guitarist Jim Wilbur — was smiling.

It was the sort of music that made you feel like smiling and/or jumping. In addition to a few songs from the new record such as “Learned to Surf,” Superchunk played most of the “hits” that longtime fans probably wanted to hear: “Slack Motherfucker,” “Hyper Enough,” “Hello Hawk,” “Skip Steps One and Three, ” Art Class,” “Like a Fool,” “Low Branches,” “Iron On,” “Water Wings,” “Driveway to Driveway” and “The First Part.” (If anyone has a complete set list, feel free to post it in comments.) It all sounded quite glorious.
See a video of Superchunk working on the new album.
See a video of Superchunk in concert at the 2009 Merge 20th anniversary celebration.

Also on Sunday at Taste of Randolph, I saw a similarly buoyant performance by another band on the Merge label, The Love Language. Can’t wait to hear their new album, which comes out in July. … And Chicago’s Califone played as well — without nearly as much jumping. Of course, that’s not what Califone is all about, and the band delivered a strong set of the gritty, atmospheric folk rock that it’s known for.

See my photos of Superchunk, the Love Language and Califone at the Taste of Randolph Street.

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