Stakes seem necessarily high when one of the biggest independent rock bands in the world—a Montreal eight-piece called Arcade Fire—climbs into two rented vans and drives across this country's northern border to play two pre-primary election rallies 50 miles apart in North Carolina. That the band convinced Superchunk—the historical flagship of its label, Merge, and a band that plays once or twice a year—to join them for two dates is as astonishing. At one point during the run, Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan said guitarist Jim Wilbur only agreed to play when he was told he'd have a Secret Service detail to himself.
But these bands converging here was bigger than that: To put it in perspective, Superchunk hasn't played two shows in two consecutive days since 2003. And just 14 months ago, Arcade Fire frontman Win Butler was smashing a guitar on Saturday Night Live. Six months ago, he was sharing stage time with Bruce Springsteen after a cover shoot for Spin. Last Thursday, he stood on a hot patch of asphalt outside of Greensboro Coliseum, signing up volunteers for Barack Obama's presidential campaign. Friday afternoon—in front of a larger, more welcoming crowd of 3,000 in Carrboro Town Commons—he jumped in the crowd to sing a chorus, posed for photos with a long line of fans, and pleaded to potential voters from the stage: "Let's do this shit," he said breathlessly at day's end, immediately apologizing for the set's only expletive. Cheering under the mid-afternoon spring sun, the crowd didn't seem to mind.