Live Review: Superchunk, Philadelphia, PA, Nov. 5, 2019

Is it more awkward for a band to rip through a set of frenzied songs about a fresh breakup between two members while one of the parties plays wordlessly onstage, or for a band to unhurriedly unpack the same set of songs on acoustic guitars 25 years later while one of the parties stays home?

Superchunk—minus bassist Laura Ballance, who still records with the group but no longer tours—revisited 1994’s Foolish at World Cafe Live, and it was no more or less awkward than being in a room with acquaintances you don’t really know how to talk to anymore, wiggling with restraint in your seat to tunes you once moshed to, or shoehorning a saxophone into an indie-rock song.

Life’s awkward. Keep going anyway.

Promoting the recent Acoustic Foolish release (a.k.a. Superchunk AF), Mac McCaughan, Jim Wilbur and Jon Wurster did right by the material, taking the edge off songs like “Water Wings” and “Why Do You Have To Put A Date On Everything?” and adding depth by transmuting their pain and bitterness into a dull ache.

With Jason Narducy sitting in for Ballance and Matt Douglas adding keys and sax, the quintet stretched out on “Stretched Out” “Kicked In” and “Keeping Track.” After running through Foolish’s dozen tracks, they returned for a four-song encore that culminated, appropriately enough, in a relatively slack take on “Slack Motherfucker.”

McCaughan joked that he’d suggested skipping the last few songs from Foolish but Wilbur had convinced him that they were “for the heads,” and when the frontman observed how many musical parts sounded like R.E.M., Wurster dutifully teased the drum intro to “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine).”

Torres—Mackenzie Scott, solo—opened with a short-yet-pointed mix of older songs (“New Skin,” “Sprinter”) and material from her next album, Silver Tongue (“Good Scare,” “Gracious Day”).

—M.J. Fine; photos by Chris Sikich