Sean Silver wanted nothing more than to see Superchunk before he died. Upon receiving news earlier this spring that his four-year bout with Chordoma, a rare bone tumor, had become terminal, Silver told whoever would listen that all he really cared to do was live long enough to see one of Superchunk's storied reunion shows in North Carolina. Silver died five weeks before Wednesday night's Superchunk show in Chicago, the band's first set this year. He missed a good one.
A benefit for the Ulman Cancer Fund, Wednesday's show was, well, different. Many of the night's attendees weren't exactly scene regulars or really that interested in the music: They came to the Eff Cancer benefit to, you know, Eff Cancer, and—if there happened to be a show going on—right on. They were drowned out by The Ponys (who sound like Dinosaur JUNIOR), called out by The Mountain Goats, and shoved out by the hordes of feverish Superchunk fans.
"I'm generally against the guy with the acoustic guitar telling the audience to be quiet," Mountain Goats frontman John Darnielle told an ungracious, murmuring balcony, "but, before Sean died, he really wanted to see Superchunk, and us, and the Ponys, and that's why we're all here."
Darnielle's plea hushed all but an indelicate few. When he later dedicated "Shadow Song"—the most harrowing tune in his repertoire, where he closes by repeating, "This is a song for you, in case I never make it through to where you are"—to Sean, the fragile number was no match for the chatter in the rafters. As a tribute to those actually paying attention, Darnielle stepped in front of the microphone and delivered the song's end to the private audience of the first few rows. One doesn't need moments like these to feel connected to Darnielle's words, but a reminder like that of just how connected Darnielle is to his own words never hurts.
Predictably, Superchunk took their all-too-rare live opportunity to run through the hits. Predictably, from note one, it was fantastic. It's hard to find much fault in a set that begins with "Throwing Things" and packed "Seed Toss" and "Water Wings" in before the halfway mark. Whether it's sweet or sad to see a bunch of mortage-holders soaked in $6 beers and screaming along to "Slack Motherfucker," it's plenty glorious either way.
"Misfits and Mistakes," the band's first new track since 2004, met a few requisite woos upon introduction, and the ease with which it fit in with the rest of the night bodes well for whatever—if anything—is to come of Superchunk. If Superchunk were ever louder or tighter when they did this, say, every night for a few years, they must've been the best band in the world. Maybe that much hasn't changed.
Superchunk played in New York on Sunday. For Robbie Mackey's review, visit Scan, the Independent's music blog.
Paul Thompson is a freelance music critic based in Chicago and the lead reporter for online music magazine Pitchfork Media.