Superchunk and Versus

On Further Review
by Julie Stoller

Superchunk's Laura Ballance

Boston, MA - 9/21/10

VERSUS - The evening began with fellow Chapel Hill band, Versus, who have also recently released a new album (On the Ones and Threes) after a decade’s absence. Richard Baluyut’s distortion-laden lead guitar and pretty harmonies is an appetizing mix. Their most recent addition is Margaret White on violin and keyboards (she mentioned it was her first time performing with them in Boston) - she adds a lot of class to their sound with lush keyboards and ethereal, mournful, and screeching violin.

With the lovely interplay of vocals between Baluyut and Fontaine Toups (and occasional vocals from White as well), the frequent violin and guitar forays into outer space, hard-driving and then dropping down to quieter, more thoughtful passages, their music bridges the gap between pop and atmospheric space jams. Delicious stuff.

Versus are
guitarist - Richard Baluyut
bassist - Fontaine Toups
drummer - Edward Baluyut
violin/keyboards - Margaret White

SUPERCHUNK - A salute to those of you who followed Superchunk (and perhaps Versus as well) back in the heady post-punk 90s… but this review is for those of you who for some reason missed Superchunk’s original power-pop-hardcore heyday. In case you were wondering, this is no “nostalgia band,” and their latest release, the aptly-named Majesty Shredding, sounds like such a logical step from their earlier albums, it seems that 9-year recording hiatus never happened.

As instruments were being set up for Superchunk’s long-awaited Boston return, I looked around at all the earnest young men waiting in anxious anticipation. The air was thick, the atmosphere serious as hell. Was there some trepidation, perhaps? A beloved band that were, for many, the indie rock forbearers who provided the soundtrack for their teenage and young adult lives [well yes, there were a few ladies present, but up at the front of the stage, the ratio was at least 10 to 1]. Would they be able to pull it off? Recapture the magic of bygone days? Would they be as relevant and powerful as everyone remembered? Would they perform all those songs on everyone’s wish lists?

Mac McCaughan

Happily, as it turned out, the answer was “hell yes.” Every bit as edgy, hyper-kinetic and out of control, with Mac McCaughan careening and pogoing across the stage, the band exuding massive energy and enthusiasm like a blast furnace with their old favorites and powerful new offerings like “My Gap Feels Weird,” “Fractures in Plaster” (with Versus’s Margaret White on violin) and “Digging For Something,” which all inspired crowd singalongs, surprising due to their newness. “Slow Drip” was performed for the first time; Laura Ballance had a cheat sheet with the chords at her feet, just in case, but it sounded fantastic.

Their set focused of course on the new material, which continues their signature sound with hard-punching future anthems as if they’d never been away, and included four songs from 1994’s Foolish – their first album in the 90s that moved away from their original raw punk sound into more adventurous and melodic waters. Especially lovely was “Driveway to Driveway,” where they brought things down to a simmering boil. Though they certainly celebrated – to the delight of the increasingly manic crowd – their power-punk legacy, with such classics as “Hyper Enough” and “Slack Motherfucker”. The latter of which inspired the sole stage dive of the evening, the enthusiastic gentleman coming out of nowhere from the back of the stage and off into the front of the audience, which had – unfortunately for him - cleared out somewhat during an earlier and especially exuberant moshing moment.

The New Album

The classy Royale may have seemed to the band a bit “upscale” for their sort of cacophony (drummer Jon Wurster said in the band’s blog that it seemed like the sort of place Benny Goodman or Tommy Dorsey would have played), but it felt like an apt venue for a band with an elegant maturity that moved from its punk and hardcore roots into a more expanded musical language while still keeping their hard edge, passion, and devout indie sensibilities staunchly intact. It was a classy place (must be the chandeliers) for a classy band.

The symbiotic craziness of band and audience peaked at the encore. Beginning with the much-loved “Like A Fool” from Foolish, MacCaughan told a heartwarming Boston story about local impresario Billy Ruane, how he told them that they were “approaching Buffalo Tom in intensity,” which was of course a great compliment, and they went on to do searing covers of two hometown favorites, Sebadoh’sBrand New Love” and SS Decontrol’s 1981 classic “Glue.” These were interspersed with their own over-the-top deliveries of “Hyper Enough” and “Precision Auto,” which perfectly capped off a very satisfying evening.

Superchunk are
guitarist/ lead vocals - Mac McCaughan
bassist - Laura Ballance
guitarist - Jim Wilbur
drummer - Jon Wurster

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mediaseth said…
Thanks. This only makes me wish I could have seen this sure even more! Last time I saw Superchunk was at the Somerville Theatre.. 2001, 02..sometime around then. I thought the venue was a little stiff for them.

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