The Pinhook, Durham
Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2013

At the end of a sweat-soaked, near-hour-long set last night at The Pinhook, Mac McCaughan, Jim Wilbur, Jon Wurster and newly added bassist Jason Narducy climbed back onto The Pinhook’s stage to grant an 11th song to the packed room. They’d barely grabbed their instruments before a barrage of song titles hailed from the damp crowd. “Detroit Has A Skyline!” “Foolish!” “Slack Motherfucker!”

“Turns out we’re taking requests,” McCaughan said before striking the first chords of Superchunk’s first hit. “Slack Motherfucker,” penned famously while McCaughan worked at the Chapel Hill Kinko’s, has rightly become an indie-rock anthem, and the crowd of fans who’d scored free tickets to Tuesday’s rare small-room show sang along with every word. But for a band now a quarter-century old, whose members and fans usually have children in attendance, the song has taken on an interesting tension. McCaughan shrugged it off, offering a quick “Sorry, kids,” before hitting the refrain.

The song’s tension stems also from the nostalgia inherent in playing the hits. For a room full of sympathetic fans, the old songs hold great meaning, but Superchunk hasn’t dwelled long on its legacy. In fact, this last-minute show in Durham was part of a promotional campaign celebrating the release of Superchunk’s 10th full-length, I Hate Music, a strong entry in a strong catalog, and something of a meditation on aging and mortality. What’s more, this was essentially one last open practice before Superchunk kicked off a national tour and one of the band’s first shows after the departure of founding bassist Laura Ballance (from the stage, anyway). Nostalgia seemed a particularly distant concern for Superchunk.

Narducy pushed his appropriately understated bass lines from a red Fender, nearly identical to Ballance’s, but this never felt like a concession. He stepped into the band fairly seamlessly, and Superchunk plowed forward. Beyond loud guitars and a big chorus, the youthful aggression of “Slack Motherfucker” shares little with the adult resignation of I Hate Music’s lead single “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.” Played back-to-back, the generation gap in Superchunk’s own work became obvious.

At the conclusion of the 10-song, pre-”Motherfucker” set, Superchunk had touched on past glories with “Driveway to Driveway” and “Seed Toss” and dedicated the new sprint “Staying Home” to Durham’s unsung ‘80s hardcore heroes The Ugly Americans. But the night focused mostly on new material. The move demonstrated primarily that recent singles and I Hate Music highlights like “Jackie Mittoo” and “Trees of Barcelona” were as good—or better—than the catalog cuts.

On Tuesday in Durham, Superchunk kept it casual and concise. Whatever nostalgia they’ll concede might have to wait for what McCaughan called the “long-ass, full-length, put-you-to-sleep set on Saturday night at the Cat’s Cradle.”