September 23, 2010

Rock Over Boston: Superchunk | Versus | Royale | 9.22.2010

[Superchunk at Royale in Boston, MA 9/21/10. Photo by Michael Piantigini. A few more from the night here.]
Remember that feeling you used to get as a teenager when you'd go to the Worcester Centrum kinda early to see... let's say Van Halen, and on the scoreboard they'd be running through the stuff coming up there, and it would eventually cycle back around to Van Halen and everyone would go crazy? That's how I felt in the hours leading up to Superchunk's return to Boston.

No, they never really broke up, but this still felt like an event. Hell, they've been away about as long as Pavement (that is, a lifetime), and look at those guys. Those of us still suspicious of (though often giving in to) nostalgia are fortunate that Superchunk is supporting their excellent new album, Majesty Shredding (Merge), which has been so warmly received that the Boston crowd knew and loved the new songs enough that they were cheering for tracks like "My Gap Feels Weird" and "Digging For Something" nearly as much as many of the oldies. This is a great sign. Hopefully Superchunk will take it that way too, and keep this going.

But yes, they did play "Slack Motherfucker," too, which is a stone-cold, capital-A Anthem every bit as much as, say, "Born To Run," even if most people don't know it (whoever they are).

The crowd was oddly low-energy in the early going (I'm very disappointed in us for not going more crazy for "Seed Toss" in the two-slot), but Superchunk inevitably powered through it; Laura Ballance's pogoing and Mac Macaughan's manic energy that had him covering a lot of stage wound up the crowd enough that there was (of course) plenty of pogoing, a bit of a pit going for a while, and even a solitary stage dive. Just like back in the day. How great it was, also, to see Jon Wurster drumming his "regular" gig again after spending the last decade making comedy and drumming with everyone from the Mountain Goats to Aimee Mann to Bob Mould.

Mixing it up really well, the band drew pretty evenly from their entire catalog, eventually playing tracks from each of their albums with the exception of 2001's underrated Here's To Shutting Up. The encore brought a trio of cool local tributes: Mac Macaughan's recounting of a time that Boston scene godfather Billy Ruane told him that their new album at the time was nearing "Buffalo Tom-level intensity;" and covers of Sebadoh's "Brand New Love" (a long-time Superchunk cover), and 80's Boston punk legends SSD's "Glue." Late set explosions "The First Part" and "Package Thief" cemented the deal.

It's way too easy to make jokes about shows like this having early set times due to the ages of those involved, but Superchunk rendered them null and void, and with the manic aural adrenaline shot "Precision Auto" for a closer, it's doubtful anyone could go right to bed afterwards, no matter the age. (See the full setlist below).

Versus had the unenviable task of opening up this event, but I was nearly as excited to see them as the headliners. Their last time in town was at the shows for the celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Jon Bernhardt's time on WMBR's essential Breakfast of Champions morning show. Which is only appropriate, because I first heard Versus' "Silver Vein" on Bernhardt's show all those years ago, but they're now firmly on a comeback trail of their own behind their own great new album On The Ones And Threes (Merge).

They're at their live best when Richard Baluyut's distortion-drenched guitar cranks up, and we got some particularly great flashes of that with tracks from the new one like the Zeppelinesque riffing of album-opener "Invincible Hero," the epic stomper "Cicada," as well as the title track before they wound down with another rarity, the slow-burn title cut to their 1996 EP, Deep Red.

Versus have a pretty chill stage demeanor as it is, and the early set times didn't do them any favors, as they opened up to a still mostly empty room. This contributed to a mostly low-key set that, like Superchunk's, did warm some as it went on and they played a clutch of their own classics, like the trio of "Circle," "Be-9," and, especially, "River" from 1995 fan-favorite, The Stars Are Insane. These were in short supply the WMBR show, so it was great to have these back on the setlist. Hopefully, their new activity will lead to a return to regular Boston visits? Please?

SCHEDULE CHANGE! Tonight was to have been Bettie Serveert's first visit to these shores in a while, but immigration issues have delayed the Dutch band. Glad to see that it was so quickly re-scheduled, though it is messing with my 90's week some. The new date is Tuesday, November 2nd at TT's. Your tickets are still good! I heaped praise upon their 2010 release, Pharmacy of Love, over here.

- Michael Piantigini

Superchunk at Royale, Boston, MA 9/21/2010:
Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything
Seed Toss
My Gap Feels Weird
Cursed Mirror
Detroit Has a Skyline
Fractures in Plaster
Watery Hands
Nu Bruises
Slow Drip
Digging For Something
Driveway to Driveway
The First Part
Package Thief
Everything At Once
Slack Motherfucker

Like a Fool
Brand New Love (Sebadoh cover)
Hyper Enough
Glue (SSD cover)
Precision Auto

Superchunk: Intertubes | Tour Diary | MySpace | Superchunk on Twitter | Jon Wurster on Twitter
Versus: MySpace | Fan Site
Merge Records: Intertubes
Bettie Serveert: Intertubes | MySpace | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

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