It's been about 13 years since indie icons Superchunk, led by frontman and Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan, played a Nashville show. On Friday night, the North Carolinians were greeted with a Music City crowd that was, thank God, much stronger than the one at their criminally underattended 328 Performance Hall show in 2001. This go-round, we rolled into Mercy Lounge shortly after 9 p.m. to find the room about half-full with Gen Xers, music snobs and, seriously, just about everyone who was at the aforementioned 328 show.
Opening Friday night's show were locals Bully, an absolutely fitting appetizer for the power-pop main course we were about to consume. Of course, we'd seen Bully on the very same stage just four days earlier, when they'd competed in the final installment of this year's Road to Bonnaroo series. Friday night's performance, however, was their first non-truncated set with brand-new members Clayton Parker and Ben Moore — the boys done all right. A set highlight was the jumpy, power chord- and cowbell-rife punk-pop jam "Milkman," which the band will release on 7-inch later this month.
Superchunk took the stage around 10 p.m., though official bassist and Merge Records co-founder Laura Ballance was noticeably absent from the lineup. Ballance of course opted out of the tour altogether, citing a hearing condition known as hyperacusis. In her stead was Verbow's Jason Narducy, who — along with Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster — has been backing Bob Mould for several years and who dutifully handled the low-end groin-punch for the Chunk's inimitable proto-Weezer indie punk.
The set itself clocked in around an hour-and-a-half, with Superchunk's bite-size, high-speed and catchy anthems whizzing by all too quickly. It can't be easy for a band to please a crowd pining for any number of songs from their 25-year, 10-album catalog. But even with half the set culled from the band's latest, I Hate Music, and 2010's post-hiatus comeback Majesty Shredding, there wasn't a lull. Fortunately, unlike many bands their age, Superchunk still makes amazing records. Fists still pumped and lyrics were shouted along to newer songs like "FOH" and "Me & You & Jackie Mittoo," with McCaughan bopping and bouncing and jumping around through all of it like a goddamn live wire. The man has the energy of a 19-year-old.
Naturally, classic anthems like the insubordinate "Slack Motherfucker," the post-hardcore pop burner "Precision Auto" and No Pocky for Kitty's "Punch Me Harder" saw more knuckle-thrusting from the crowd than any of the newer numbers. Then there was the inclusion of "Mower," a gem from 1993's On the Mouth that couldn't possibly be anyone's favorite Superchunk song, and yet here we were surrounded by a mob of folks who all seemed to know the words. Even after an encore, there were probably a dozen or so tunes to which The Spin was aching to rock — we wanted to watch more of Wurster's mutant-level loose-limbed drumming and hear more of Mac's impossibly rafter-reaching rock 'n' roll howl. But how much more would have been enough? Another hour? Two hours? None of the above, friends.
The band name-dropped Merge labelmates/signees Lambchop (some of whom were in attendance) amid other Music City allies in a brief but heartfelt spiel about the band's strong Nashville connections. We were happy to hear they still have a fondness for Music City, even after we let them down last time. So, will we see Superchunk sooner than we think, or will The Spin have to wait another 13 years and three albums before our next fix of rootsy power indie rock?
East Nashville has a reputation as The New Colossus of the hipster glitterati, welcoming with silent lips the languid and scruffy, the trust-fund bohemian elite, the huddled masses yearning for green tea. While The Spin doesn't doubt that those folks exist, we saw way fewer of them than ordinary families getting a head start on their yard work as we puffed our way across South Inglewood on Saturday morning for the start of the Tour de Fun bike-and-music fest.
When we reached the rallying point at Riverside Village, we found an army of fresh-faced volunteers in Day-Glo yellow T-shirts, handing out maps and grilling burgers per the orders of ringleader and fest founder Tyler Walker. There was already a fairly diverse and neighborly crowd, including parents with toddlers who rarely if ever make it to a night show. With a blast from his bullhorn, Walker hustled us down the cordoned-off section of McGavock to a makeshift stage outside Fond Object Records, where Rales kicked off the morning's festivities around 11:15. Showcasing some of the less frequently seen groups in town is one of the festival's many goals, and we could always do with more Rales. Filling in at the last minute for MantraMantraMantra, the trio dealt out a short and sweet set of old-school indie rock that wouldn't have been out of place alongside Friday night's Superchunk set. We're totally fine with tight, dynamic bands bringing back the good stuff from alt-rock; just please leave rap-rock in its moldy grave.
Speaking of hip-hop, we went back to the green for Jung Youth, who brought out his full band again. His routine was similar to what he laid down at his recent Road to Bonnaroo set, but this time on a patch of grass across the street from the Bailey and Cato barbecue joint — in other words, the set was not bad at all, though we're still confident that his best is yet to come. After a quick jog back to Fond Object, we caught The Subnovas for the first time. This young group of Murfreesboro emigres impressed us with their brand of synth-laced post-rock. Not unlike our favorite Cure tunes, it's as poppy and groovy as it is dark and moody, and it borrows some energy from hardcore punk. The last song in the set, an as-yet-unrecorded track titled "Telescreen," was our top pick.
With a cry of, "We play once a year, and we practice twice," Duperocho introduced a set of instrumental dance jams. It was plenty competent and more than a little goofy (we suspect it was one of these guys who brought the foam-rubber cinder block that was being tossed around like a beach ball), but it couldn't compete for our attention with the smell of burgers. Not long after devouring ours, we bumped into stalwart Scene photographer Diana Lee Zadlo, who declared the vegan burger "yummy."
Astride our trusty cruiser in a sea of racing bikes, we felt a little like a Clydesdale among the thoroughbreds, but no one seemed to have a problem with taking it easy on this mostly downhill cruise. Volunteers acting as corkers held back traffic at most of the intersections as we paraded on by, and a few locals waved and hollered from their front porches. We saw one minor accident and heard a blowout before we dismounted behind The East Room, but as best we could gather, casualties were at the absolute minimum.
Our show map got a little chaotic from here. We ventured into The East Room, a dark cave that was perfect for a set from Penicillin Baby, aside from an odd smell that was unnervingly like morning breath (had some space slug taken up residence there while we weren't looking?). The garage-psych ragers tore through a characteristically excellent set, with Megajoos' Wes Mitchell on the drum throne.
We then headed across the street to see what we could catch at FooBar, just missing Churchyard and The Prophet Nathan. We scooted past T. Rust's Taylor Rust and Tyler Coppage and their haunted house tale, followed by the triumphant return of quirky hard-pop trio Awesome Shirt. Hank Pruett's louder-than-shit guitar and Future Night founder Mike Kluge's Thunderdome bass duked it out, while Tyler Walker whaled at the drums like his life depended on it, massive grins all around.
Walker had good reason to beam like a proud papa. Though we unfortunately had to bow out with something like 20 bands and 10 hours left on the clock, our contacts informed us that the rest of the day went off without a hitch. Tour de Fun miraculously pulled together a whole new audience and set of venues, while running as close to on-schedule as a festival gets.
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