11 Jul 2002: Clutch Cargo's Pontiac, Michigan
e’re a bunch of old farts from North Carolina.” That’s how veteran indie rockers Superchunk described themselves to an audience comprised mainly of people who were still in middle school when the band started their own record label and released their first single in 1989. Superchunk ceded their more than a decade-old top-of-the-bill status this summer when they decided to accept an opening slot on the tour of emo flavor of the week the Get Up Kids. In doing so the band have found themselves in the now-unfamiliar position of playing to a sea of mostly uninterested faces who politely tolerate the opening band’s presence until the act they’ve paid to see comes out, rather than their usual audience of fervent long-time followers. It’s probably, at least in part, an attempt to get their music before a completely different age group, now that their own favors strollers and mortgages over seven inches and smoky clubs; how successful an attempt remains to be seen, though, as far as I could tell, the Detroit kids at this show weren’t too moved.
Superchunk may not have won too many new converts on this night, but they definitely gave it a shot. The mellower, more experimental Superchunk of recent years and side projects was, for the most part, nowhere to be seen. Instead, we were treated to the throwback, foot-up- on-the-monitor, hair-tossing, frantically-jumping up-and-down Superchunk those of us old enough to have seen them back in the day well remember. The band even looked like they hadn’t aged a week since I last saw them more than seven years ago, retaining that lean and hungry look (so lean and hungry, in fact, that I wanted to kidnap them and take them to the nearest Old Country Buffet to fatten them up a bit) endemic to the D.I.Y. rocker. Well, except for guitarist Jim Wilbur, but he’s looked like someone’s dad for so many years that even he seemed like he’d been drinking from the fountain of youth. The whole performance was like some kind of weird time warp—except that I, the one-time college radio snob, was the old fogey in the room who’d barely heard of the headlining band, and my fellow audience members were attired in Phantom Planet and South Park T-shirts.
The set list ranged from indie anthems “Slack Motherfucker” and “What Do I” to songs from 2001’s Here’s to Shutting Up. Frontman Mac McCaughn appeared to be losing his voice (though it was a little hard to tell since he always sounds like he’s straining to reach the notes). To spell his vocal cords, members of openers Hot Rod Circuit filled in on lead for a couple of songs, including “Hyper Enough” from 1995’s Here’s Where the Strings Come In, to the younger members of the audience’s delight, who formed a pit and got in a little good old-fashioned crowd surfing. Unfortunately, they went back to staring boredly and talking amongst themselves by the next song, but it was fun to see the whippersnappers rocking out to their older siblings’ music while it lasted.
As the set came to a close and the audience started whooping ironically for the Get Up Kids, I felt pretty confident that the musical highlights of the night had already been witnessed. Superchunk may not have gotten any older in the last fifteen years, but I have. When the headliners came out and performed some serviceable but mostly uninspiring songs, I did what we old folks do—I left halfway through the Get Up Kids’ set so I could get home and get enough sleep to function at my grown-up job in the morning.