“So if you guys are going to see bands on Monday, what will you be doing on Friday? Just napping?” Mac McCaughan asked the full house at the Mohawk as his band, Superchunk, kicked of the first night of South by Southwest music showcases with a bang on the Red River club’s outdoor stage.
Superchunk knows the drill well by now, having played SXSW since the early 1990s. Back then, though, the whole thing didn’t kick off until Wednesday; this year, the band will have come and gone by then. In 2018, it’s a smart move to arrive early: Not only are most of the Interactive registrants still around, but Superchunk is one of the biggest draws on the fest’s first two music nights.
They’ll play an acoustic set Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m. at Waterloo Records before closing out their trip Tuesday night at 8:15 p.m. at the Main. If Monday night’s set is any indication, those shows will be packed, lively and worth every moment spent. Since returning in 2010 from a nearly decade-long hiatus, the North Carolina group has been on fire, with three impassioned albums including last month’s “What a Time to Be Alive.”
The band — McCaughan, guitarist Jim Wilbur, drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy (who tours in place of co-founder Laura Ballance) — played about half of the new record in their hourlong set, squeezing in quite a few old favorites as well including 1994’s “Driveway to Driveway” and 1991’s “Skip Steps 1 & 3.” Nearly three decades into an 11-album career, the band is still spectacular in live performance, a whirlwind of energy and songs that remain the envy of the many indie-rockers who followed in their footsteps.
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SXSW is an especially good fit for Superchunk because its daytime industry panels are well-suited for a bandleader such as McCaughan who also heads up one of America’s most successful indie labels, Merge Records. He’ll be up bright and early (well, in musician time) for a 12:30 p.m. panel Tuesday at the Convention Center, joining his longtime bandmate and Merge co-founder Ballance in a discussion about the label and the group’s new record, which tackles sociopolitical fallout in the Trump era head-on.
To close their main set Monday night, they chose the 1989 single that put them on the map, a song that’s always struck an especially ringing chord with Austin audiences. “Slack Motherfucker” arose from Chapel Hill at about the same time Richard Linklater was making the film “Slacker” here. For a bunch of cultural documentarians on the fine art of slacking, they’ve all done pretty well for themselves.