It’s Sunday night. It’s been an action-packed (and thus tiring) weekend. And, over the course of it, I seem to have chipped a front tooth, which is of course incredibly sexy. Disturbingly, there is nothing to suggest that anything particular happened to cause this enhanced sexiness. But it’s a Sunday night featuring Spider Bags and Superchunk at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club, so we’re bidding a temporal goodbye to all that and focusing on the rock and the roll. After all, there are maybe thirty women in the venue, and half of those are working. Tonight is for rocking.
There is a lot of space to move around as the opening set commences, the stage pushed out as a 90s-slacker-male-sort-of-crowd filters in (plus a few whose older brothers probably fit that description). Spider Bags is a three-piece act from North Carolina’s RTP. They’re peddling hard-charging garage punk-inflected rock and roll, performed with precision yet sufficiently ragged to feel frantic. Think: early Replacements meets Jim Carroll meets … The Dirtbombs?
“I don’t have nothing on my mind,” belts out lead singer Dan McGee, solidifying the impression that these are guys with little to lose, and thus, are just a bit dangerous. (Which should be a given with a band name that references a slang term for a bag of heroin). They continue along, slightly quirky and a bit humorous as McGee spits out lyrics like “Papa Was a Shithead” with a cadence found in the music of one of their disciples, Patrick Stickles of Titus Andronicus. One of two things is true…they either have a great sense of humor or are the proud owners of a misspent youth. Probably both. On this stage, though, they’re tightly focused, they’re fun, and they absolutely are worth the price of admission.
They give way to the indie rockers next door. Superchunk sings about baseball and death. They joke about the Washington Nationals‘ season vs. the career of The National. Their wit is evident, and they’re all the sort of neat, buttoned down, and polite indie rocker that a young girl would gladly take home to mom. One of the remarkable things about them remains their utterly unremarkable appearance: not a single guy on stage would be pegged as an influential rocker by the proverbial man on the street. That man, of course, lives in ignorance; Superchunk is one of the more influential indie bands of the past twenty years…and they took a decade off. Beyond their work in this band, Laura Ballance and singer/guitarist Mac McCaughan also founded the wildly successful indie label, Merge Records. (See: Arcade Fire). Pavement, they’re not, but then again they rock harder than Pavement ever did.
The band’s appearance seemingly applies almost wholesale to the mostly male crowd (although this crowd mostly “met the parents” a decade or two earlier). The 90s indie rocker types — some of the band t-shirts spotted include The Replacements and Sugar — are now elder statesmen in this world, to the extent that their matured existences include the show scene. Their descendents would be wise to learn one lesson from this group: pay attention to the show. This shouldn’t even be a thing, but it’s an etiquette lesson lost on contemporary club crowds. Tonight, though, there’s no itinerant chit chat, no sorority girl gossip, no post-show planning…just a bunch of people in love with the cathartic qualities of rock and roll and living in the moment. These are music fans, not scenesters, fans whose accumulated wisdom informs them of the import of the moment in front of them; they get the rareness of the opportunity.
Superchunk takes the stage as a four-piece, Ballance no longer touring on bass due to issues with her hearing. The amps are turned on, (up to 10, no doubt), and they collectively turn into a rock and roll tornado, touching down all over the stage, always kinetic, always maintaining F5 status. Early in the set they pull out a fast-paced new song, “FOH,” that definitively proves their ongoing vitality. Perhaps cognizant of the fact that this crowd is not as big as they might have hoped, they slyly drop a “Breaking Bad” reference into their between-songs-banter. Yes, there’s a lot on the tele tonight (“Homeland,” “Sunday Night Football,” and whatever boring people watch). But still, the couch potato excuse for missing this show is inexcusable in the age of the DVR. A more likely and excusable issue for non-present fans: babies.
Fans of this age bracket take a little longer to warm up, but warm up they do as the movements grow steadily stronger throughout the floor. We collectively progress from white boy head bobbing to full-on pogo-ing, arms raised and the band’s catchy refrains sung in unison. It’s just after 10pm when they bring five of those enthusiasts on stage to dance it out and provide a bit of a communal moment during “Digging for Something,” the lead track from their 2010 release Majesty Shredding. It’s one of those tracks that rocks live in a much more vigorous way than might have been self-evident on the recording, and instantly everyone is singing along, “Oh oh oh …. digging for something!” All of a sudden we have an indie rock party. The temperature is rising, reaching its apex when they pull out “Slack Motherfucker,” more than a few soon-to-be-pseudo-unemployed government workers shouting out, “I’m working…but I’m not working for you!!!”
At least one local luminary is in attendance (Richard Morel), and Superchunk takes the occasion to salute the local scene from days gone by in their encore, pulling out a frenzied version of Teen Idles‘ “Sneakers.” The drum kit breaks, the kick drum having had enough of the beating its been taking all night, but they continue unabated. If one isn’t watching intently it would have been easy to not have noticed the snafu. This is a professional band.
They draw to a close at a time conducive to the lives their longstanding fans now lead, and the only thing that might have made this performance more captivating would have been an onstage sacrifice to the rock and roll gods. But, given how great of a show they put on — even WITHOUT playing “Hyper Enough” — that offering must have taken place before the show.