Superchunk's impressive show Saturday afternoon crystallized everything great the CBGB Festival could be.
In its inaugural year, the festival, which ends Sunday night, had setbacks that were mostly out of its control -- an attack by the Cro-Mags ex-bassist that led to two stabbings and the shutdown of the show and a high-profile cancellation by Richard Lloyd of Television, the first band to play the legendary CBGB club. It also had some logistical issues that led to a much smaller crowd at its free Times Square concert Saturday due, in part, to fans not knowing when or where bands like Superchunk or The Hold Steady were playing -- a bigger issue than usual as temperatures hovered near 100 degrees.
But all that paled in comparison to what the four-day event accomplished, including a thrilling takeover of the distinctly mainstream Times Square and Central Park by the decidedly underground acts that used to play the downtown club or were influenced by the rebellious music that was born there.
Superchunk is one of the bands inspired by the CBGB scene that, in its 23-year history, also got to play there to inspire yet another generation of musicians. However, the indie-rock pioneers are far from a nostalgia act, filling nearly half of its 40-minute set with post-punk songs from its recent “Majesty Shredding” album, as well as its new single “This Summer,” an upbeat rocker that suited the festival scene well with its hand-claps and sing-along chorus.
Though singer Mac McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance spend more and more time running Merge Records, the independent label that includes Grammy winners Arcade Fire, they, along with guitarist Jim Wilbur and drummer Jon Wurster, still definitely know how to move a crowd. Despite the triple-digit heat index, the Superchunk crowd was happily pogoing and shouting along with their heroes.
“Wish it would warm up,” deadpanned Wilbur, halfway through the set.
Of course, the band was generating some heat of its own on the stage set up in the middle of Broadway next to the “Mamma Mia” marquee. During “Crossed Wires,” McCaughan showed why Superchunk's vertical leaps could rival an NBA team, though he admitted that the height he achieved was due to missing the drum riser.
The new songs “Crossed Wires,” “My Gap Feels Weird” and especially the single “Digging for Something” embody what the original CBGB bands proved. People will embrace good music, no matter what the trappings are, once they get to hear it. The mosh-pit passion of “Slack” and “Hyper Enough,” after all, is hard to forget once you've experienced it.
Giving more people that chance -- by giving bands like Superchunk a Times Square platform (or Guided by Voices a platform in Central Park) -- is an admirable quest that CBGB Festival organizers accomplished. Let's hope they try again next year.
"This Summer" / "Why Do You Have to Put a Date on Everything?" / "Detroit Has a Skyline" / "Crossed Wires" / "My Gap Feels Weird" / "Driveway to Driveway" / "Hello Hawk" / "Digging for Something" / "Slack" / "Hyper Enough."
Photo: Superchunk's Mac McCaughan plays the CBGB Festival. (July 7, 2012)