Mac McCaughan @ Black Cat - 5/8/15

Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan has been in the music business for 26 years now (his label, Merge Records, celebrating its 25 year anniversary last year), yet somehow he’s never released a solo album under his own name. While much of his earlier output as Portastatic was a largely a solo affair, this year’s Non-Believers was the first album to bear his name on the front cover.

Kicking off the tour at the Black Cat in Washington, DC, Carrboro, NC garage punks Flesh Wounds opened the show. The band, consisting of Montgomery Morris on guitar and vocals, Laura King on drums, and Geoff Schilling on bass, released a 7” last year on Merge Records. Through a furious, high energy set, Morris shouted and made menacing faces while King and Schilling held down a pounding rhythm. At times it seemed like a stark contrast to the pop-punk sound that McCaughan is known for, but it was easy to tell why he had signed them to his label and brought them along on his tour.

Superchunk / Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan making with the rock at the Black Cat Backstage - 5/8/15 (Photo by Matt Condon)

Superchunk / Merge Records founder Mac McCaughan making with the rock at the Black Cat Backstage - 5/8/15 (Photo by Matt Condon)

When it came time for McCaughan to come to the stage, the trio joined him, with Morris and Schilling swapping instruments. McCaughan introduced them as “The Non-Believers,” after the title of his album. The group switched gears to match McCaughan’s sound effortlessly. Opening the set with the almost New Order-sounding “Lost Again,” the band played through a set including new tracks “Only Do,” “Your Hologram,” and “Barely There,” along with Portastaic tracks “Autumn Got Dark” and “Angels of Sleep.”

Then it was McCaughan’s turn to go truly solo, the band leaving him alone on the stage with only his own guitar to back him. For this part of the set, he focused on sparse, personal interpretations of Superchunk songs, playing classics including “Driveway to Driveway,” “Learned to Surf,” “Skip Steps 1 & 3,” and “Me & You & Jackie Mittoo.” “Don’t worry, my friends are going to be back to join me in a minute,” he said before starting into “Detroit Has a Skyline.”

The band then rejoined him for two more Portastatic tracks, “Noisy Night” and “White Wave,” as well as “Box Batteries” (the first single) and “Come Upstairs” from the new album. Through the mix of new and old, one thing was clear – 26 years into the music biz, McCaughan is still as strong a performer and songwriter as ever, producing material now that stands with the best of his work from throughout his career.

All photos by Matt Condon. Click to embiggen.