Super Chunk and Thicky

Superchunk Superchunk
with Plumtree
The Starfish Room
Vancouver, B.C.
Thursday, October 16, 1997

Review by Michael O'Donahue
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

Back to the Starfish Room for the Real Big Show featuring the mighty Superchunk -- the reason North Carolina's even on the map at all, Hurricanes be damned -- and Halifax's latest cutesy export, Plumtree. Big crowd, much anticipation, and a room as jammed and sweaty as I had anticipated. Dress light so there's fewer things hanging over your beer arm. Solid advice. Is everyone in? All set? On with the show...

As mentioned, the sacrificial lambs this evening were Halifax's Plumtree. It's weird, because all the Maritime news we get out here speaks of depression decline and lower standards of living. I always expect Maritime bands to be angry, or at least mopey, but they never are.

Plumtree bassist Plumtree have a mellow, angst-free vibe about them that, while commendable and sorta refreshing, doesn't make for a very compelling live experience. It's not essential to rip your heart out and bleed -- metaphorically -- all over the stage, but DO SOMETHING. The band can play, they can write a catchy tune and they can make it all the way to Vancouver, but their lack of both intensity and flair for grabbing and entertaining a crowd only served to draw attention to the Cub-with-music-lessons sound they create. Other than the bass player's space-cadet faces, there wasn't much going on up on that stage to elevate Plumtree above the background noise.

I really thought the crowd was going to ruin my first Superchunk gig in three years. I've never understood the thinking behind paying money to see a band and then spending the set bashing around with your drunk jock friends, jumping on stage and leaping onto their groping hands, landing on your head, bothering everyone else around you, annoying the band and really missing out on the whole performance. Is that all worth $14?

Fortunately, after a few curt words from singer/guitarist Mac about "the lamest stage dive ever" and something about flannel shirts, the bunch at the front settled down so those of us more interested in the band than in covering our heads and protecting our drinks could get an idea of what was going on -- you know, up on the stage.

Mac Superchunk are the band that never lets you down -- always evolving and stretching themselves, doing everything themselves and PUTTING OUT live. Speaking of ripping out your heart and bleeding all over, Mac McCaughan is a performer who leaves nothing behind in the rehearsal space when he gets up in front of an audience. Screaming out his blues, flailing his guitar, whirling about and pogoing back and forth, up and down -- riveting stuff. From the opener "Burn Last Sunday" from their new album, Indoor Living, to the closing "Preci Auto" from 1992's On the Mouth, Superchunk rocked like no one else.

Mac's voice, his and Jim's brilliantly intertwining guitars, John's crashing drums and Laura's ropey bass notes and pogo-a-go-go presence are all the proof you need: Rock and Roll is not dead, it's just gone underground. Way underground. Superchunk can do it all: three-minute rock-like-a-hurricane songs like "Hyper Enough" and "Package Thief" that fully deserve to dominate the airwaves the way they dominate the playlist at our house; longer, slower numbers, like "Untied" and "Like a Fool," which tug the old heart strings and bring words like "modern classic" to mind in a way that anything you slow-danced to in high school just didn't; and effective oddballs like "Martinis on the Roof" which wail, scream, cry and ROCK the way everything should but doesn't.

Superchunk guitarists If you only know Superchunk from their recordings, then you are getting only some of it -- their live show brings everything great about them out in the open. All the depth, feeling and energy in their music is right there in the room with you in a way no CD can translate. This show's set leaned mostly on the songs from their last two albums, with obscure gem "Cool" from a 1991 7" being about the only pre-On the Mouth song they played. I admire the band's determination to be judged on what they're doing now as opposed to what the past "hits" they are known for, and I know I'd rather pay $14 for a band that matters NOW as opposed to $90 for Fleetwood Mac's greatest hits. I know there's only one Mac that matters, and he doesn't make burgers and he never slept with Stevie Nicks.

My only complaint? I want more. Maybe I'm greedy, but I wish Superchunk was still playing and I was still there. I guess I'll just have to wait...

First published in Drop-D Magazine on October 31, 1997

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