Of all the bands likely to take a stand against the idiocies and abominations of the current Trump administration in the US, I never expected one of them to be Superchunk! The ‘Chunk, Chapel Hill, NC’s enduring pre-grunge US alt-rock noiseniks, had never struck me as being overly political in their music or outlook, but one listen to their firmly tongue-in-cheek titled current album, “What A Time To Be Alive” put me in my place – a vitriolic attack on “the scum, the shame, the fucking lies” of the orange buffoon currently residing in the White House, coupled with the ‘Chunk’s trademark strident, frantic indie rock howl, and vocalist Mac’s entreating, one-octave-too-high-for-comfort vocals. A damn fine album, for sure, so when a London date was announced in support of said album, I was up for that too!
A quick albeit slightly damp run into London saw me park up at the Bush at 6.20, on the lookout for traffic wardens until I was legal (!), then tubing it over to ULU, one of my regular 80’s gig haunts. It’s changed a lot since then, evidenced by the fact I couldn’t find the right entrance door, eventually being pointed in the right direction by a good-natured security bod, then hanging outside said door with only one other couple for company, as no-one else was around! Eventually a small queue formed behind me, so I was first in when doors eventually opened at 7.40. Milled around as the place filled slowly with earnest looking blokes in black jeans; I overheard a snatch of conversation between 2 guys at the bar about walking football – yup, this is definitely my demographic! Took a place on the barriers, house right, for support Oblivians, on at 8.20 to a very small smattering of folk, and I immediately figured the latecomers had the right idea! A veteran Memphis trio, they were terrible, playing clumsy, hairy-arsed heavy bluesy rock’n’roll straight out of The Replacements’ dustbin. An incoherent early drum-heavy number could’ve been a Meteors B side back in the day, and quickly this hour-long (!) support set became a test of endurance, particularly after they announced they only had a couple more to play, swapped instruments around, played 6 (!) more numbers, announced they only had a couple to play – again! – then played 4 more! Much more entertaining was the scene unfolding to my right; a group of Italian rockers were trying to record the Oblivians’ set, much to the objections of the same security bod who’d helped me out earlier, then kicking off when told to stop. Why even bother!
Thankfully, they moved on after Oblivians finally finished, and Lisa joined me briefly down the front before Superchunk came on, dead on 9.45 to Bowie’s “Boys Keep Swinging”. “Last night at Leeds was like staring at a corpse!” announced guitarist Jim to a by-now respectably full ULU, the crowd taking that as a challenge with a warm reception for opener “What A Time To Be Alive”, delivered with the venom and strident intensity of old, Mac wide-eyed with righteous bile and fury. Time certainly hasn’t dimmed the fire…! “Reagan Youth” and “Lost My Brain”, both amphetamine-fast and no less pissed-off newies, followed, Mac announcing the latter as, “trying to stay sane in the face of neo-fascism,” then an early highlight with 2010’s excellent “Crossed Wires”, a gloriously infectious popcore number standing tall with Superchunk’s finest.
“Thanks for remembering us!” complimented a buoyed Mac, a punter replying, “it’s hard to forget you!” before oldie “Skip Steps 1 and 3” provided another frantic and strident highlight. The pulsating and palpable rock noise dished out tonight by the ‘Chunk was worthy of their 90’s pomp, and on a par with recent Bob Mould outings – no surprise really, as Chunk’s rhythm section tonight was Bob’s own, bassist Jason Narducy subbing for the absent Laura and complimenting regular Chunk/ Bob drummer Jon Wurster perfectly. “Break The Glass” was, “about trying not to look at your phone at 4am to see what fucked-up thing just happened in the world” – hey, I know the feeling… then melodic oldie “Driveway To Driveway” showed there was still a light touch to be had amongst the sonic assault. However, the boys were bumping up to time now, Mac announcing, “we’re just going to keep playing,” then delivering an astonishing final salvo of “Slack Motherfucker” and “Hyper Enough”, 2 of their finest, most towering terrace chant popcore moments. That’s the way to end a gig!
Caught a scrunched-up list thrown by Mac, then bade farewell to Lisa, untangling said list on the tube back to the car before a surprisingly easy drive home, back for 1am. Excellent stuff from the Chunk, harking back to their Mighty “live” pomp, but laudably, clearly with something to say about the fucked-up state of the world today. Well, someone’s got to say it, and it may as well be The Mighty Superchunk!