“You didn’t realize you’d entered a weight-loss program when you came in here, did you?” Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan asked an attentive Montreal nightclub crowd in 1993 during a marathon 80-minute gig captured on tape and presented as the fourth installment of the band’s live release series, Clambakes. McCaughan was referring to the pogo dancing that the crowd brought to the band’s riveting set that night, but the sentiment also speaks to Superchunk’s overall electricity at the time.
On this cold March night in Montreal, Superchunk sounded as energized and pumped as they ever were: “Skip Steps 1 & 3” is set on never-hyper-enough as McCaughan’s and Jim Wilbur’s guitars brutalize each of the song’s surges. The songs ride on waves of electric overload, with Laura Ballance and Jon Wurster’s rhythm section popping each change, shoving a big, nasty exclamation point into the dense din. “From the Curve” is a mammoth rock song bursting at the seams, and “Punch Me Harder” is so buried in Wilbur’s riffing that it sounds like a punk anthem that lights up and flames out in two minutes. McCaughan sounds almost hoarse as he shrieks out his lines. For the second encore, Superchunk builds into a wall of feedback to rev “Precision Auto.” The locals gnash their teeth for more, and Superchunk delivers with “The Only Piece That You Get.”
“Piece” closes the show, just as it closed On the Mouth, released only a month before by Matador. It was the last album Superchunk would release on a label other than its own, Merge. In a bit of foreshadowing, Montreal musician Howard Bilerman recorded the gig, and, more than a decade later, he served as the drummer on Funeral, The Arcade Fire’s landmark debut on Merge. That album’s success changed the business of Merge, pushing their numbers and influence higher than ever before.
Ultimately, this is a stunning document of Superchunk at a crucial time in its career and a crystalline early snapshot of its touring life. It’s as solidand a tad raggedof a live recording as any rock band could want.