“Hey, that was the night you guys bet me $45 that I wouldn’t ask out our waitress at Denny’s.” It’s two weeks ago and I’m sitting in the Cat’s Cradle dressing room with my Superchunk bandmates–Jim Wilbur, Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance. We’re taking a little stroll down Memory Lane as we thumb through the first draft of John Tully’s A Superchunk Touring History, an impressive fan-researched, show-by-show chronicle of the band’s movements from its first performance on July 29, 1989 (as Chunk) to tonight’s gig with Dinosaur Jr. nearly 16 years later.
As various cities and show dates are called out, it’s funny what’s remembered and what isn’t. For instance, I have no memory of the show we played in Tempe, Ariz. on June 8, 1994, but I do recall not only the aforementioned wager (I was too shy) but also that I partook (regrettably) of Denny’s all-you-can-eat fried shrimp buffet just hours before we played.
I really can’t believe it’s been almost 14 years since I was asked to join Superchunk (I replaced original drummer Chuck Garrison). Sure, it was tough giving up my burgeoning window-washing career (I was told I was on track to becoming second assistant crew chief), but I went for it anyway. Over the course of two weeks in mid-October 1991, we practiced in Mac’s living room, played a WXYC benefit at the Cradle, and prepared for a four-week tour. I didn’t know it then, but that tour would be just the first step of an almost decade-and-a-half-long journey that would take the four of us around the world many times.
What follows is a handful of highlights (and lowlights) from those years:
10/30/91: Baltimore, MD–This was my first (real) show with Superchunk, and I turned 25 during the middle of our set. A great night sullied only slightly by the fact that all of our T-shirt money was stolen after the gig. Money shmunny, it was my birthday, and I was on the road in a rock band that people actually liked!
11/6/91: Bloomington, IN–I knew the pop music landscape had changed the moment I walked into the club that afternoon and saw a band comprised of five khaki-clad members of the Indiana University debate team playing Nirvana’s new smash hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” This really was the year punk broke. Eleven people came to see this show, a record that still stands as our lowest ever North American turnout. That night I slept just two feet away from a cat litter box in a filthy apartment. It wasn’t the last time that happened.
4/15/92: London, England–Because Superchunk was the first of the U.S. indie rock bands to make it overseas, we were treated like conquering heroes … for about two weeks. One minute we were on the cover of Melody Maker and New Musical Express, the next we were pushed aside so more ink could be devoted to a group both papers were heralding as “the greatest rock band England has ever produced.” Don’t agree with that assessment? Guess you haven’t listened to Suede lately. Oh, I am such a dick.
12/25/92: Tokyo, Japan–Christmas in Japan is a trip. So is walking into your hotel room an hour after making it through Japanese customs, reaching into your sweater pocket and discovering that the brother of your Australian promoter left a big ol’ joint in it. First thing I did was get down on my knees and thank my guardian angel for keeping me out of the Japanese slammer. Then I smoked the hell out of that fatty.
8/6/95: Raleigh–This stands out as one of the best shows we’ve ever played. It was the final day of our two-week leg of the Lollapalooza tour, and we went on just as the sun was going down. Lots of familiar faces in the crowd and everything clicked. A magical, memorable show.
10/4/95: Winston-Salem–What better way to kick off a month-long North American tour than getting robbed at gunpoint after the first show? Though sprawled on the parking lot pavement, I found it hard not to be charmed by the sight of the two perps high-fiving each other after taking my money. At least they gave my wallet back.
10/9/95: New Orleans, LA–Jim hurt his back a day or so prior to this show. Before the gig, he announced that he’d be playing the first five songs while seated on a stool. I don’t know what was funnier: watching him perform those five tunes sitting down or the fact that someone yelled “bring back the stool” after we finished song number six.
1/25/96: Bordeaux, France–When most people think of Bordeaux they think of fine wine, funky architecture and delicious cuisine. Not me. I think of Le Jimmy, quite possibly the world’s most repulsive rock club. The only thing worse than Le Jimmy’s squalid bathroom is the fact that one must walk directly across the stage (while the band is playing) to get to it. This place has served as the backdrop for several of my most terrifying nightmares.
2/16/96: Copenhagen, Denmark–Woke up to find that the drummer of the band we were touring with had punched a wall and shattered his hand after the previous night’s show. The bad vibe was taken up a notch during our performance when I got into a fight with a crazed meth-head who was trying to undo Laura’s tuning pegs, mid-song. They couldn’t throw the dude out because he lived in the club.
9/10/98: Sao Bernardo do Campo, Brazil–This was the first show of our wonderful first Brazilian tour. The venue was a bizarre cross between Le Jimmy and the club in Copenhagen in that it boasted both a squalid bathroom and a live-in crazy guy. I promise you I am not making this stuff up.
10/12/01: Paris, France–There’s an old rock ‘n’ roll adage that goes “You’re not a real band until you’ve played a show on a Chinese fishing boat that’s been converted into a floating nightclub docked on a river in Paris.” Alright, there’s no such adage, but if there was, we’d be considered pretty damn real.
11/26/01: Washington, DC–This show marked the end of a large chapter in the Superchunk story. It was the final show of the Here’s To Shutting Up tour, and the last we’d do as part of a multi-month-long blitz. We’d been around the world in 60 days and were beyond exhausted. Ten years and one month after that show in Baltimore and I was over it, big time. For a while at least.
7/2/02: NYC–After a six-month break from touring, we accepted an offer to open a few weeks’ worth of shows for the Get Up Kids, a band that cited Superchunk as a prime influence. It looked good on paper: We’d be playing to 1,000 young kids every night, kids who loved a band whose sound was somewhat based on ours. Only thing was, those kids had no idea who we were. Though the tour was a bit of a struggle, this show at the legendary Roseland Ballroom was one of the most satisfying I’ve ever played, probably because with a huge stage and an audience of 3,000, it was the closest I’d come to playing one of those big-time rock shows I used to see as a kid. And yes, I know that’s kind of sad.
7/29/05: Cat’s Cradle–Obviously this show hasn’t happened yet but it will be notable. Not just because it falls–to the day–on the 16th anniversary of the band’s first performance, but because we’ll be debuting songs from our upcoming album, Roy’s Boyz–A Tribute to Our Tar Heel Heroes. Just kidding. Or am I?