Jangle All the Way: Superchunk at the 9:30 Club, Sept. 17
While most of its 1990s indie-rock contemporaries have since broken up and, in many cases, gotten back together for lucrative reunion tours, Chapel Hill, N.C.’s Superchunk never really split or went away, still gigging here and there and trickling out the occasional new song. But its excellent new album, Majesty Shredding, is the band’s first full-length in nine years, and the accompanying tour brought it to the Washington, D.C., area for the first time in seven years, making Friday night’s 9:30 Club show a bit of a long-awaited trip down memory lane.
After opening with an oldie but goodie, “Throwing Things” from 1991’s No Pocky For Kitty, and following it up with new songs “My Gap Feels Weird” and “Crossed Wires,” the band repeated the pattern for the next hour and a half, alternating between sing-a-longs from Superchunk’s ’90s heyday and crisp, jangly cuts from Majesty Shredding.
Singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan remains the most eerily ageless frontman in indie-rock besides Thurston Moore, and McCaughan’s yelping voice and squealing, unpredictable guitar solos make him sound like a being composed entirely of treble. But the rest of the band, particularly powerhouse drummer Jon Wurster, give McCaughan’s songs the necessary pop-rock thud to make them feel more like Springsteen-esque anthems than tinny indie-pop tunes.
Superchunk is the kind of band that sometimes gets stuck with the tag of being one-dimensional, the idea being that all its songs sound the same. And while it’s true that the group has a signature sound and excels at a particular fast-paced riff rock, there’s a wealth of color and variation within that framework, as demonstrated on Friday with songs such as “Animated Airplanes Over Germany” and “Hello Hawk” that start out hard and eventually wind down to gorgeously gentle codas. And some of the most ecstatically received tunes of the night were the mid-tempo tracks “Driveway to Driveway” and “Iron On” that proved a little easier to pogo to than the faster, punkier songs. Still, Majesty Shredding’s “Learned To Surf” proved that the band is as capable as ever of writing rousing, memorable songs in the classic Superchunk mold.
Throughout the set, fans shouted out song titles, and every now and again McCaughan would listen, huddling with his bandmates to agree to play a request. But by the time they’d returned for an encore, guitarist Jim Wilbur, always happy to play the crank, was clearly tiring of the spontaneous set-list changes and tried to snarkily discourage any more. Still, after McCaughan promised one more song and the band ran through “Slack Motherfucker,” the debut single that Pitchfork recently named the 81st best song of the ’90s, the audience evidently gave back enough energy to justify yet another, the 1995 hit “Hyper Enough.”