At any job, no one wants to train their replacement.
On paper, Superchunk’s headlining performance at the Fillmore on Tuesday night could have easily been viewed as just that, with Mikal Cronin in the role of eager pupil. Cronin, a San Francisco resident and new artist on Merge Records, the label run by Superchunk’s principles Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, is one of 2013’s breakout stars. His sophomore album, II, is earning critical acclaim and the Orange County native is showing a steady growth in notoriety. Opening essentially for his boss (Ballance is not touring with the band due to hyperacusis), Cronin stood in the crowd and watched attentively as Superchunk, the original Merge band, led by example with their energetic set of songs spanning more than 20 years of work. And, if Cronin is to be one of Merge’s new flagships, Superchunk seemed determined to express their vitality, projecting themselves as a band for whom age is just a number.
Superchunk’s set, which McCaughan said was their first Bay Area club show in more than a decade, leaned on their recent output, with “F.O.H.” and “Me & You & Jackie Mitoo,” the most instantly memorable tracks from their fresh album I Hate Music, kicking off the performance. Otherwise, it was songs from 2010’s Majesty Shredding, and less of their now-classic 90’s output that punctuated the night and made for the most dramatic moments. During “Digging for Something,” McCaughan used a breakdown to tell a story about a family vacation which ended in a San Francisco punk show, and it was strangely affecting despite being completely anecdotal and without ostensible weight. Something about the details that McCaughan decided to include, like the fact that it was the “last ever family vacation” and the way he told it made it seem important. It was a weird personal glimpse of which Cronin should take note.[jump]
While Mikal Cronin was musically sound, emphasizing the rocking songs of II rather than the album’s prettier, more emotional ballads, Cronin did not allow the crowd to know much about his personality. Many in the audience were pushing 40 and clearly Superchunk fans from their initial run of semi-popularity, but Cronin easily crosses into the same pleasure centers as Superchunk. Telling a story or being funny or just seeming interesting places more value on songs, and allows fans to care about the music with more ease, and Cronin is not doing himself any favors by being a bit shy and business-like while playing. Of course, that is his personality, but it lends itself to a one-dimensional show, whereas a bit more entertainer training from his new boss could make Cronin truly dynamic on stage.
Jon Wurster, drummer of Superchunk, could show him a thing or two as well. The radio personality/comedian/drummer-for-a-billion-projects was noticeably not mic’d for Superchunk’s set, which isn’t necessarily odd, but the band made up for it when near the end of their encore, Wurster and McCaughan switched places for covers of Dead Kennedys and Bay Area hardcore group Fang, sung by the drummer with gusto and swagger; the latter received a drumming replacement from Cronin (and Ty Segall Band) percussionist Emily Rose Epstein. The night ended with a second encore, this time covering Sebedoh, and the fans were in no way confused about who was the main attraction for the night. Cronin would be wise to glean whatever knowledge or insights he could from the show, as he is very much learning from one of the best.