I saw Superchunk last night. They played at the Metro in Chicago. Superchunk is touring to back a new album called Majesty Shredding. I think Superchunk has done a few shows here or there over the years, but the last time I saw them was at the Metro in like 2003 or something. I was with my homepiece and we were pretty thoroughly disappointed at the time. I remember at that show they had some woman playing keyboards in there. Superchunk was always a classic four-piece with a normal lead guitar/rhythm guitar setup. Adding keys really messed up the whole formula. Speaking of formula, the original knock on Superchunk was that all their songs sound the same. I didn't agree with that at the time, and I still don't. What I will admit is that their sound became formulaic. At the show in 2003, they were playing a lot of slow, lilt-y synthy stuff. It was getting old; somebody from the balcony shouted "PLAY SOMETHING THAT ROCKS!!!", and it summed up everyone's feelings at the time. After that show, I think I vowed never to see Superchunk again.
Mac McCaughan is the founder, leader, songwriter and owner of Superchunk; I don't think many decisions are made in the band without his input, and I would hazard to guess that he probably isn't open to points of view that differ from his own. It's this stubbornness that led to the success of Superchunk, and the label that Mac founded (Merge). When it comes to pleasing an audience, however, you kind of have to check your ego at the door. I don't think Mac understands this concept. I really believe that Mac thinks he knows what's best for the audience better than they do. It's very damaging thinking if you want to be a popular musician, and it's this stubborn attitude and the subsequent force-feeding of substandard songs that makes Superchunk so disappointing.
Last night, though, I have to admit that Superchunk did rock. They lost the keyboardist and stuck to what they do best. But they also came with a substandard set list. They went heavy off of the new album, which is to be expected, but they did not sprinkle crowd-pleasers in between. They played a lot of obscure stuff out of their catalog; sometimes that is good, but not so much with Superchunk.
Getting back to their formulaic sound, all bands have a dynamic; it's rare that a band makes a record and then comes out with a new record that sounds completely different. Evolving, writing, expressing--that's part of the creative process. When I say formula, I'm saying that the creative process becomes, "Let's make a Superchunk song! We'll take a little of this, a little of that, it will have a beat like 'Hyper Enough,' it will have a lead like 'Silver Leaves and Snowy Tears' [would've loved to have heard that last night as it would have been great for the start of winter] and we put it into the soundboard, tweak it around and VOILA! A new Superchunk song." They played a song last night that sounded just like that, a hodgepodge of old songs slapped together.
Safe to say, the show was very disappointing; every time they kicked into a new song, it was something I didn't know. I'm guessing a lot of people were feeling the same thing. Then when they did bring the good, like when they played "Throwing Things," or "Slack Motherfucker," everyone went nuts, and even the band seemed more enthused about the old songs than the newer/more obscure stuff. If they aren't going to listen and feed off of what the crowd is telling them, they should at least listen to their own hearts.
Prior to the show we were all throwing out songs we would like to hear: "Water Wings," "Cast Iron," "Skip Steps 1 & 3," "Seed Toss," "Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything," "Package Thief," "Swallow That," "Slow," "Brand New Love" and others. They did not play one of those songs. For some reason, the band seems to think that the two songs that they have to play at every show are "Hyper Enough" and "Precision Auto." I don't think these songs are that great, and I would be surprised if anyone in the crowd listed these two songs as their two favorite Superchunk songs, yet every show, year in/year out, keyboard, no keyboard, they play these songs. WTF? Retire that shit already. Play "Eastern Terminal" or anything else.
The new songs were pretty solid, though, and other standouts included "Throwing Things," "Driveway to Driveway" (although a pretty half-hearted version at that) and "Punch Me Harder." I had a good time with good friends, but it was a much different experience than the recent Matt Skiba show: At the Skiba show, he just got up there with a guitar and played every song that the people wanted to hear. Everyone in the place was singing along. I would love to be able to transport Superchunk to that show and tell them "It's this easy. If you want to play a good show, play what the people want to hear."