Tag Archives: Superchunk

Riot Fest 2018: Whole Lotta Shakin’

I’ve been attending big music festivals in Chicago every summer since 2005, but it’s been many many years since I arrived anywhere near early enough to see the opening wave of bands. There’s always bands I’d kinda like to see who play before 2:30pm but 3-day music festivals are work and you have to make sacrifices for your health and sanity.

Riot Fest scheduled Liz Phair to play at 2:10 on Friday this year. That’s early. Especially for a Friday. And even more so since I no longer live in Chicago. But I love Liz Phair, and it’s been a while since I’ve seen her in concert. In fact, I had tickets to see her in Detroit on Thursday but once the Riot Fest lineup was released, I decided to skip it. But that made it mandatory to arrive in Douglas Park in time.

I didn’t need to worry. Getting in to the park this year was easier than ever before. In fact, we made it inside with plenty of time to see festival opener Speedy Ortiz, who coincidentally is opening up for Liz Phair on her current tour. They were fun and cool. And their 30-minute set flew by.

The best thing about Riot Fest is that it’s got a small enough footprint that you can run around from stage to stage in no time. Five or ten minutes is all you need to get from one to the another. Unfortunately, this also means there’s soundbleed from other bands if you’re not standing directly in front of the stage. But it’s great to be able to skip around and get a sampler platter of everything that’s happening.

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New Superchunk video: Erasure

Video: Superchunk – “Erasure”

Superchunk - Erasure (Official Music Video)

Directed by Whitey McConnaughy. From What a Time to Be Alive, out now on Merge Records.

“Erasure” features backing vocals from Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield and The Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, and it’s another punch in the gut from Superchunk.

Hate so graceless and so cavalier
We don’t just disappear
Shifting shapes you’re just an auctioneer
But we’re still here

Mac McCaughan says: “The song ‘Erasure’ is about the desire and attempt, on the part of the old white men currently running this country, to erase the experience, history, and existence of entire groups of people who don’t look or think like them. They want a straight white America which does not and has never existed, but they hope to make it so. When director Whitey McConnaughy heard the song and started thinking about video ideas, he heard another angle, which is also a theme of our album: Given today’s anxiety-inducing, creeping authoritarianism, how do we get through each day when we feel like we’re losing our minds?”

For real. How do we get through each day? The last couple of years have been absolutely brutal to anybody who pays attention and gives a shit. I’m not sure Superchunk has an answer, but listening to loud, defiant music seems to help for a little while…

Superchunk: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

New Superchunk video: Cloud of Hate

Video: Superchunk – “Cloud of Hate”

Superchunk - Cloud of Hate (Official Music Video)

Directed by Taiyo Kimura. From What a Time to Be Alive, out now on Merge Records.

For someone in their forties there isn’t any music more life affirming than Superchunk. They make you feel alive. They open up the possibilities of what it means to be a grownup. You don’t have to be old and lame. You don’t have to get complacent and conservative. Yeah, I’m working. But I’m not working for you!

Last time I saw Superchunk was almost eight years ago. And in a lot of ways it’s a completely different world now.

You have a dream, a bloody nightmare
For every human that’s not you
You scare the kids, I hope you die scared
Of all the kids that know the truth

As grownups who give a shit, we have no choice but to put our faith in the kids that know the truth. Granted, that’s not all the kids. Exit polls suggest that ~37% of 18-29 year olds voted for our orange fuhrer in 2016. More than one out of three kids are still dipshits. Cloud of hate, float me away.

Superchunk: web, twitter, amazon, apple, spotify, wiki.

Superchunk – In Beween Days

Video: Superchunk – “In Beween Days”

This is just as good as you’d imagine it would be. Everybody loves Superchunk; everybody loves this song; the whole is just as good as the sum of its parts. So glad this band is back together and doing new stuff.

That AV Club Undercover series is pretty cool. Clem Snide‘s Eef Barzelay covered Journey‘s “Faithfully” and it’s really touching.

Superchunk: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki

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Superchunk – Digging for Something

Superchunk - Digging for SomethingMP3: Superchunk – “Digging for Something” from Majesty Shredding, due September 14 on Merge.

And if that’s not enough Chunk for you, Merge is also issuing remastered versions of classics No Pocky for Kitty (1991) and On the Mouth (1993) on August 17. Here’s a taste:

MP3: Superchunk – “Skip Steps 1 & 3” from No Pocky for Kitty.

These are good times to be a Superchunk fan.

Superchunk: iTunes, Amazon, Insound, wiki, twitter.

Lots of Links: Twitter Roundup #17

Tweet tweetBelow are the things we’ve posted to Twitter recently. 219 tweets including 138 links and 97 retweets. In reverse chronological order, just like Twitter…

Jeff Sabatini and Mike Vasquez are tweeting for GLONO from the All Good Festival in West Virginia, although word from Sab is that network connectivity there is awful. But tune in for updates.

# Internet success requires trust. RT @annkpowers: Prince and the Internet, a history (tragedy?) http://tinyurl.com/2bn54a5

# RT @Johnny_Marr: World Premier of Inception in Leicester Sq, London last night. Guitars on the score by Johnny Marr.

# Everything here is leaning on an angle because of the mountain. It’s disconcerting to say the least. #allgood

Lots more below, and you might consider joining the 841 other people following us on Twitter so you can keep up with this stuff as it happens…

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Superchunk at Taste of Randolph Street

Superchunk in ChicagoWhat better way to celebrate Father’s Day than to leave your kid with a babysitter and head down to a street festival to see Superchunk? That’s as good as it gets, as far as I’m concerned. And by the looks of the crowd last night on Randolph Street, there are plenty of other dads who would agree with me.

Street fairs are a summer ritual in Chicago, happening every weekend in neighborhoods across the city, but most of them feature the same crappy vendors and the same bland cover bands. You still go, of course, because it’s summer in Chicago, and it feels great to finally be warm and to walk down the middle of the street with a $5 plastic cup of Miller Lite. But Randolph Street boasts some of the best restaurants in town, and whoever books the entertainment for the event knows what they’re doing. Last year’s Taste featured the Posies, Tinted Windows, and the Hold Steady. Several years ago I saw Evan Dando (with Juliana Hatfield!) there.

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Superchunk – Leaves In The Gutter

Superchunk - Leaves In The GutterSuperchunkLeaves In The Gutter (Merge)

OK. I now feel guilty for taking Superchunk for granted. It’s that whole “absence makes the heart grow fonder” thing. Here’s a nice gauge of how good Superchunk was/is: Leaves In The Gutter is merely a five-song EP packaged together as spring-cleaning while being incredibly reflective in its brief shot.

Of the five, only one is underwhelming (“Misfits & Mistakes”) and it’s easy to understand why the band would lend it to an animated piece of meat to give it some identity.

But the rest of the EP is top notch, only hinting at its status of “also-rans” in terms of tape hiss and distortion. “Screw It Up” is a nice shot of vintage melodic Chunk while “Knock Knock Knock” finds the return of the traditional bash and pop of Tossing Seeds-era material under an efficient three-minute mile.

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Rock’s latest youth movement finds a friend in Emo

Johnny Loftus

Where do all the Britney fans go when the lip gloss wears off? What happens to young consumers – already used to buying CDs and downloading MP3s from the days of their pre-teen popstar love affairs – when they get old enough to realize Pop isn’t cool, but aren’t knowledgeable enough to do anything about it other than changing the channel to M2?

Superchunk is old enough to appreciate the irony of their support slot on the current Get Up Kids club tour. It has to be a little weird, considering Superchunk released its first 7″ when most of GUK were still in short pants. But how do they take it when most of the audience still is? Last Friday evening, Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance looked out across a house packed with peach fuzz and training bras. “No fancy entrances,” she said with a weary, sarcastic sigh. “We’re going to pick up our instruments and play a few songs for you now.” As Superchunk commenced with the rock, there was a palpable sense of confusion from the throng of teenagers, each one dressed in meticulously arranged Abercrombie wear with various nouveau punk rock accoutrements. “Who is this group of old people on stage?” they seemed to be asking. “Why does the rhythm guitar player look like my old T-ball coach?” Despite the solid rock foundation of Superchunk’s anthemic riffs, they received only a smattering of applause after each song. Polite patronizing, as anticipation continued building for headliners The Get Up Kids – Midwestern phenomenon, certified dreamboats, and Vagrant Records’ #1 act with a bullet. “Yes, I’m making fun of you and your cell phone,” guitarist Jim Wilbur said to a pretty young thing in the front row. “How can you even hear over the racket we’re making?” Ballance chimed in that she was probably calling her mother, “just to check in.”

Parents pounding MGDs in the back bar as their teenagers hop around to the music is nothing new for an all ages show. But over the last year, the music industry has realized that its Pop audience is growing up, and searching around for something other than “Active Rock” histrionics to identify with. Enter Emo. The success of Blink-182 proved that “Alternative Rock” isn’t made exclusively by ugly people. Mark, Tom, and Travis’ heartthrob status paved the way for a new crop of sensitive boy bands that rock – Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and now The Get Up Kids. It’s Meat Loaf in G, Freddie Prinze, Jr with a Les Paul, and Morrissey without the celibacy. It’s a corporatized amalgam of indie rock’s more sensitive side, and it’s the perfect product for the post-Britney demographic.

At the show this past Friday, I asked the girl next to me (who was 6 when Superchunk’s seminal “Slack Motherfucker” was released in 1990) what she likes about The Get Up Kids. “I think Matt [Pryor, lead vocalist] is cute,” Susan said. Musically, she’d heard some GUK tracks on a friend’s Vagrant Records sampler. Then I asked her what she thought of Superchunk’s set, which had just ended with a searing version of Sebadoh’s “Brand New Love.” Susan thought for a second, then explained how she’d missed most of their set waiting in line to buy bottled water. For Susan and so many other kids at the show, history doesn’t matter. Superchunk’s permanent seat in the indie rock Hall of Heroes – not to mention their significant influence on the music of groups like The Get Up Kids – isn’t important, because indie rock doesn’t matter much anymore. Or at least it matters in a different way. During its early 90s heyday, the music was unified by its labels, and a few geographic enclaves like Olympia, WA. This international pop underground survived the corporate workover in the wake of Nirvana, but eventually diversified on its own terms. New labels, new bands, and new scenes sprang up. Something called Math Rock was discovered under a rock. And the seeds for another Alternative Nation were sown.

Nowadays, the industry calls Weezer, The Strokes, and The White Stripes “Retro Alternative,” and it’s the hot format of the moment. The prettyboy rock bands like Get Up Kids or Sensefield get thrown into the mix as Adult Album Alternative or wherever their label positions them, via video, tour, and appearance on M2. It’s a more calculated approach to Alternative than the feeding frenzy that followed Nirvana. But it’s also much more important financially, as the industry is trying desperately to keep the spending power of 12-25 year-olds firmly in its corner. With this new gaggle of good-looking, guitar-toting rockers, they seem to have hit on a formula that will last at least until the majority of Friday night’s teenage riot hits freshman year of college, discovers Mary Jane, and invests in a Jon Belushi ‘College’ poster, a giant blow-up of Jim Morrison, and the entire Phish back-catalog.



The Get Up Kids take it down a thousand.

Johnny Loftus

Rock bands often start their journey with meth-amphetamine gusto, romping out of the gate with screeching amps, squealing tires, and enough energy to run around the block 12 times. They come to your town. They party it down. And they snap decadent photos of the act. Adrenaline and feedback get them through a flurry of singles, EPs, and at least one long-player. But changes creep in. And soon enough, the rock band that once had groupies’ underwear on its head suddenly has serious songs on its mind. Keys and acoustic guitar have tempered the fury. Blood has been wiped from the pick guard. This transition is probably inevitable; the physical demands of rocking 24/7 are challenge enough. And sometimes it’s just plain wrong, like that old cliché about the synthesizer on a sophomore album. But can it just happen too goddamn quick?

Maybe it’s the flushed, hurried excitement that comes from creating something; maybe it’s a lack of knowledge beyond three chords and the truth. But there’s a tradition in music of ragged-assed rockers growing into more somber songwriting shoes. Dateline: 1980. Subsisting on hair grease and Mad Dog 20/20, the Replacements tore holes in your Jordache with Sorry Ma, Forgot To Take Out The Trash. But over a series of albums for Twin/Tone and Sire, the ‘Mats morphed into a Paul Westerberg solo project with more to offer than just snot and crushed-out cigarettes. A few years later, The Goo Goo Dolls threw some punches around in Buffalo, New York, recording double-time scream-fests for Metal Blade records. That same consonant-heavy trio is now known more for their jangly romantic comedy soundtrack music and unfortunate hairstyles. And when Superchunk shot out of Chapel Hill in 1990, they seemingly wanted nothing more than to fire off punk-pop anthems in three-minute bursts. But in the last few years, the Superchunk sound has evolved. They can still rattle the speakers in the van. But it’s no longer a question of how fast. It’s how much they’ve learned along the way.

It’s appropriate then that Superchunk will accompany one of their proteges on tour this summer. Because just as Mac McCaughan and company have stopped trying to consistently bash skulls, The Get Up Kids’ new material is less rock, more song. But given the results, some remedial rock work just might be in order.

In the zeal of their youth (five years ago), The Get Up Kids released singles and records that pitted plaintive tales of romance and longing against the fuzzy anthemics of late 90s indie rock. Dumped into the ‘Emo’ bin by a nation of record store clerks, GUK was considered by some to be the Kansas City version of Milwaukee’s equally pleading Promise Ring. But here it is 2002, and both groups have released albums of handcrafted songs – not simply riffs for the sake of riffs, or cracked vocal chords over crackling power chords. That’s what’s interesting about On A Wire, GUK’s newest. Upon first listen, it’s odd not to hear the breath-catching dynamics that defined the more rocking moments of 1999’s Something To Write Home About, like “Ten Minutes” or “Holiday.” (Indeed, Something launches with a power slide and heavy metal drum fill; conversely, On A Wire begins with the brightly strummed acoustics of the lead single “Overdue.”) But like their mentors before them, The Get Up Kids have transitioned, and have replaced volume with a desire for experimentation, beyond playing a different electric guitar here and there. Throughout Wire, Producer Scott Litt amplifies touches of organ and backing vocals that at times recall bright-eyed early 60’s pop. Unfortunately, Litt’s production is occasionally a negative, busying up already confused songs (“High As The Moon,” “All That I Know”). And the album wouldn’t suffer at all from a few blasts of heartland guitar heroics. But for the most part, On A Wire is saved by pristine moments, like the layered guitars that support “Fall From Grace,” the homey feel of “Campfire Kansas,” or the balladic, New Amsterdams outtake “Hannah Hold On.” It’s definitely strange to hear the band retract where they used to lash out. But the direction that The Get Up Kids have taken with their new material isn’t surprising, given the path traveled by their principal forebears.

It’s true that it took a few more records for groups like The Replacements, Goo Goo Dolls, or Superchunk to fully exorcise the rock from their systems. And they did so with varying degrees of success. (In the latter’s case, the rock is still clinging to a toe-hold.) But everything happens faster these days, doesn’t it? Besides, The Get Up Kids assure the constituency on their website that rock and roll hasn’t fully fallen off of the truck, and swears that their sometimes quite pretty – but decidedly un-rocking – new material rocks more live. The words of a group of songwriters beginning to feel confident in a new medium? Or famous last words?

Insert wisecrack about Paul Westerberg’s solo career here.