Not to sound like a Doubting Thomas, but as recently just a few months ago, I don’t think I would have believed it. But Wednesday night, I found myself walking into the Ottobar for the first indoor club show I’ve experienced in nearly a year and a half. Definitely the longest time I’ve gone without stepping foot in the my home away from home in probably 20 years. But if there was a show that bring us all back home it was seeing Mac McCaughan and Jim Wilbur of Superchunk on that raised stage, playing to a rapt, and vaccinated, audience that night.
The show was a seated affair, something I hadn’t seen at the Ottobar before, but it really worked. It had both the feeling of a rock show and the intimacy of a house show which played on the strengths of the acoustic performance. And by acoustic this by no means translates as tranquil. Songs like “See Toss” and “Skip Steps 1 & 3” from the band’s sophmore album, No Pocky for Kitty, felt, well, electric!
Starting off their set, Mac jokingly asked, “So, where have you been for the last two years?” opening a night full of great music, friends, and a much needed respite from everything outside those club doors. The duo opened with “This Summer,” a single released a few years ago but with added resonance as the audience shouted along to the lines, “We’ll make a break for the bridge after raiding the fridge / Pick up your friends in Baltimore.”
Mac and Jim played through a set of favorites (even playing a special request by one very enthusiastic fan of “Kicked In” — and I admit I was hoping for that one too!) and a few I hadn’t heard in some time like “Out on the Wing” from Here’s to Shutting Up (which, by the way, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year).
Although Superchunk is known for a lot of heavy electric fuzz, their songs translate really well to the quieter acoustic setting — and it’s really no surprise, there are quite a few B-sides that are acoustic arrangements of louder songs and the band even went on an acoustic tour a few years back. Which goes to show that great songs really are great songs no matter how they are framed.
And there were some genuinely funny moments too amid the tunes, like when Mac got a text from Jason Narducy (Split Single / Bob Mould Band / touring bass player for Superchunk). Mac calls him back and as Jason tells Mac a happy birthday, every one joined in on singing “Happy Birthday” to which Mac quipped, “That’s the first time so many people have sung happy birthday to me… in two years.”
After a brilliant set, the two came back out to pay one of my absolute favorites, “Driveway to Driveway,” along with “Detroit Has a Skyline” and a really cool “Digging for Something” where they swapped in lines from the Magnetic Fields’ “100,000 Fireflies” — “You won’t be happy with me, give me one more chance, you won’t be happy anyway… why do we still live here in this repulsive town all my friends are in New York.”
A brilliant start to bringing music back, and, for me, a special show with hope for more like this in the near future.
The setlist included:
Skip Steps 1 & 3
Out On The Wing
Me & You & Jackie Matoo
Learned to Surf
What a Time to Be Alive
Driveway to Driveway
Detroit Has a Skyline
Digging for Something
Here are some pictures of Mac and Jim of Superchunk performing at the Ottobar on July 14, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of David LaMason.