SAN FRANCISCO — Superchunk are one of the originals on the independent scene and can put on a show unlike most. There’s quirky banter, great song variety and amazing performance. Singer-guitarist Mac McCaughan and company know to keep it simple and just do what they do best: Shred. That’s what they did Saturday at the Great American Music Hall.
Superchunk started its set with “What Do I,” a track off its reissued self-titled 1990 debut album. It’s also the first release on the band’s own label, Merge Records. With blasting guitars, the band wasted no time getting into the song. From there, the punk songs blew by quickly, three minutes at a time. The guitar-playing went faster, and the fans ate it up. The band started with old songs but touched upon its entire catalog.
Early on, Superchunk played “What a Time to Be Alive,” the title track of its recently released, politically conscious and loud record. McCaughan riled up the crowd yelled out the lyrics: “To see the rot in no disguise/ Oh what a time to be alive/ The scum, the shame, the fucking lies/ Oh what a time to be alive.” McCaughan later went into “Bad Choices,” saying before the song that he was preaching to the converted and San Francisco already has the right idea for society to include everyone. “And it’s the people in the middle who created a disaster and our ideas here need to spread,” he said.
As he yelled, “But all your bad choices/ Are gonna cause suffering” he jumped across the stage, bounced in place and performed scissor kicks, all while continuing to play. The band was having as much fun, if not more, than the fans.
“Crossed Wires” had fans singing along and jumping in unison with the band. Bassist Jason Narducy led the way. He worked the stage and took command of the open space.
In between songs, McCaughan and guitarist Jim Wilbur exchanged witty banter about the weather, the heat emanating from inside the Great American, joking that fans “sound great, but it could be better,” and sharing a story about urinating on the venue’s stage in the past when Superchunk played with Yo La Tengo. The lesson learned? Drinking water before playing is a huge no-no when songs are long.
As the show came approached the end, McCaughan saved the best treat for last. Katie Crutchfield from Waxahatchee, joined Superchunk onstage to perform new track “Erasure.” Her addition worked out beautifully. While Wilbur got ousted from the mic, Crutchfield took over to harmonize.
Superchunk kicked off the encore early fan favorite “Slack Motherfucker.” Drummer Jon Wurster banged away while McCaughan and Narducy flew about the stage.
Bat Fangs, one of the openers, were also a highlight on Saturday. The North Carolina duo could shred. Singer-guitarist Betsy Wright and drummer Laura King were a force to be reckoned with. They took the crowd by the jugular. Their performance was a train going full-speed.
Wright dressed in tiger print leggings and a blue tank top, tattoos running down her arms. Her stage presence is also top-notch and commands attention. She sneers, shreds, lunges and oozes sexuality. King, meanwhile, looked like she could be going out for a jog in track pants and a tank top. But don’t mistake the look for her ability to pummel the drums.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been bit, but you’re about to,” Wright said. She then went into “Wolf Bite,” with sultry and catchy vocals along with fuzzed-out garage rock riffs. She sounded like Debbie Harry and Pat Benatar rolled into one. Bat Fangs’ songs were dirty, gritty and sexy, and left me wanting more.
The band’s fast-paced sound was even more interesting, with pauses in the middle of songs. As fans got caught up in feeling, there would be jarring pauses that yanked them back out. The band ended with a cover of Poison’s “Talk Dirty To Me.”
San Francisco band Love Jerks (Bryan Garza of Scissors for Lefty and Rebecca Bortman of Happy Fangs) made their live debut Saturday with a bunch of spacey, danceable love songs with beautiful harmonies. Rebecca Garza-Bortman struck poses in her red pantsuit against a video screen. Their performance style was pure performance art, with a “virtual drummer,” astronauts and flamingos.
The band members had tongue firmly planted in cheek as they joked “What a time to be alive? Did you know Superchunk is here? We also have a protest song.” And then, they ended their set with a dance party.
San Francisco power-popper Cocktails also made good use of their time on stage. “20k” was melodic but textured. “Murder” was a foot-tapping sing-along, with bass and guitar blending seamlessly. As the band got deeper into its set, the guitar playing grew louder and faster. While not too talkative, Cocktails kept the momentum going.