Promptly at 7 p.m., North Carolina’s Superchunk took the Fountain Lawn stage to a crowd full of grey beards, faded tee shirts, and beer bellies. Noticeably absent was founding bassist Laura Ballance, who stayed off tour due to a hearing condition called hyperacusis (in her place was touring bassist Jason Narducy).
The four piece immediately launched into a set that included cuts from its latest album, I Hate Music, and peppered the remaining hour with tracks from its back catalog including “Crossed Wires,” “Punch Me Harder,” “Void,” “Like a Fool,” and “Watery Hands.”
The group’s iconic punk-addled, power pop grooves were still remarkably intact: Frontman Mac McCaughn, now in his late 40’s (anyone else see a resemblance to James Murphy?), can still shred something fierce, and drummer Jon Wurster’s wildly expressive face was a joy to watch. What’s even more impressive is that, unlike so many audiences these days–including this one–a band can plow through a show without the need to check their phone. Such focus, such restraint!
When the group played “Get Me Out of the Sun,” just as dusk started to settle in, the lyrics “It’s all just a dream/Summer’s over and I want more” felt resigned and heavy. A chill was approaching: was it just the evening air, or something else, the start of a season’s turning?
I headed off to meet up with a friend for Justin Townes Earle at the Starbucks Stage, who was already mid-song when we arrived.
Backed by a three-piece band and manning an acoustic guitar, the 31-year old songwriter was at ease on stage, weaving his warm Southern accent through songs like “Look The Other Way,” “Ain’t Waitin’,” and “Harlem River Blues,” a track preluded by a short story about the Westboro Baptist Church who protested one of his recent shows with Mumford and Sons. “I told them they could all jump in the Harlem river,” he said.
Earle’s performance was solid, but sleepy, lacking the intimacy and vitality a smaller venue offers his songs of addiction, love, and yearning. A venue like the Croc, where I last saw him perform, tends to house those themes much better than when they’re just hurled into the night. To that end, Earle did mention a band who play the Tractor tonight (spoiler alert: the band’s called Dick Move, and it’s Earle’s side-project) with local blues-rock trio Lonesome Shack. If you’re looking for plans this evening, that’s bound to be a good show.
As 9 o’clock approached, I was shivering and looking at a hour-long bus ride home. Sure felt like summer’s over, but that’s what events like Bumbershoot are good for, packed with musical memories–good, bad, unforgettable–to keep you warm ‘til next year.