The Fillmore is for people of a very specific stature in music. On one hand, it can be a bittersweet place; the last stop on the road to what most people would call fame. On the other, it can be a place that bands who never left that strata of fame, either by force or by choice, can always come back to; a place where they know they are always loved.
Both of those titles were at play on Tuesday night, for what was likely a dream lineup in many peoples’ minds – a joint headlining venture between North Carolina’s prodigal punk rock sons (and daughter) Superchunk, and recently-anointed local hero Mikal Cronin.
The weeklies have come calling, the festivals have put his name on the posters in bold type, and the late night shows have scooped him up – and now, Mikal Cronin is on his way to a level of notoriety that might one day soon exceed the confines of a venue like The Fillmore. That said, you’d expect him to receive a hero’s welcome in his hometown. The audience was polite enough, but gave him the kind of reception you’d expect for any other opener – cheers and applause when appropriate, but, save a few fanatics in the crowd, not much else. But it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying – Cronin and his band put forth a smoldering set of instant classics from his self-titled debut and this year’s MCII. It’s hard to tell whether the tepid reaction was intentional, or just an extension of the San Francisco Folded Arms (look around the next time you’re at a show in the city; you’ll see what that means).
Though it was billed as a co-headlining venture, the night clearly belonged to Superchunk, who received a much warmer welcome. Superchunk, a pristine, mint-in-box example of ’90s and ’00s pop-punk, have made a name for themselves not only for their music, but by remaining indie with a capital I for the last two-and-a-half decades. They’re also known as the founders of influential indie label Merge Records (which released Cronin’s MCII), and Tuesday was a stop on their tour behind their latest studio effort, I Hate Music, released in August to critical acclaim.
Bassist Laura Ballance was noticeably absent – she’s taking the I Hate Music tour off to nurse a hearing condition. But that didn’t set them back in any way: they blasted through a long set and encore that borrowed heavily from the new record, but circled back to old favorites from time to time. Even in 2013, Superchunk still sounds like so many 3-song demos that cluttered sixteen-year-olds’ bedroom floors around the turn of the millennium. To some, that may signify a stubbornness; an unwillingness to move on that’s usually the kiss of death for bands, especially ones that might share Superchunk’s, ahem, longevity. But when it’s bolstered by a band with such strong stick-to-your-guns ethos, it instead reads as totally punk rock. Everyone’s got a different definition of it, but it’s hard to believe anyone would call Superchunk anything else.