Superchunk and Versus @ Royale, Boston on Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2010.
Some bands gradually fall apart at the seams, the years of playing and interacting with each other slowly but ever so surely accumulating enough stress to break the bonds that forged them together initially. Others can put enough Bondo and duct tape on the vehicle to keep it moving, but the condition and performance is markedly different from when the odometer had less digits showing. Then there are bands like Superchunk, who not only sound as invigorating as they did two decades ago, but they actually look like they haven't aged all that much in the ensuing period as well. (Jim Wilbur's male-pattern baldness notwithstanding.) Somehow they've managed to keep that poppish/punkish sound fresh, well past the expiration date that most bands who work the same genre find as a limitation. A lot has to do with their approach. Bassist Laura Ballance doesn't pogo while playing because it's expected; she does it because the music is so infectious, so uplifting that it's an involuntary physical response.
Likewise Mac McCaughan still stalks the stage like he's tracking a speedy insect that's darting about, and sings at the same level (full on) as he's always done. The band played a fair number of songs from their excellent new record, Majesty Shredding, as well as classics like "Slack Motherfucker" and "Detroit Has A Skyline." They regionalized the show by working in covers of local bands, both somewhat expected ("Brand New Love" from Sebadoh) and totally unexpected ("Glue" from hardcore legends SS Decontrol). "The First Part" was the highlight of the show for me, the jagged guitars of McCaughan and Wilbur deftly building tension and texture in equal doses, with drummer Jon Wurster showing why he's been in high demand (The Mountain Goats, Robert Pollard) during the extended sabbatical that Superchunk recently ended from performing.
Opening band Versus put out their last couple of records on Merge Records (McCaughan's and Ballance's day jobs is, of course, running that operation), and they also broke a long silence by also releasing one of the stronger records they've done, On The Ones and Threes. This record (and tour) finds them slightly expanded to a foursome, with the addition of Margaret White on violin and keyboards, joining the Baluyut brothers (Richard on guitar, Ed on drums) and Fontaine Toups. White added some accents ("Invincible Hero") and lent a more prominent, plaintive tone at times (the sublime "Gone To Earth"). Toups sings a bit more lead vocals on this record than on previous ones; the driving "Into Blue" sounds like the best song that the late-era Damned never wrote. The brilliant and often-overlooked 1994 release The Stars Are Insane was well represented by three songs, and "Be-9" was a brilliant mix of Sonic Youth drive and MIssion of Burma verve.