There’s no doubt about it: Technology has sapped much of the mystery out of seeing live rock’n’roll. A venue’s website posts the set times, so you can skip the opening bands. Your friends will text you when the headliner is setting up. Hell, the band might even Tweet their setlist from backstage.
But Thursday night’s bill at Merge Records’ four-day 20th anniversary bash in Carrboro, NC, recalled a time when tweeting was something that birds did: No schedule was announced in advance, leaving fans to rely on intuition — and their ability to identify the instruments of certain Merge band members — to figure out who was playing.
One example: Superchunk frontman and Merge co-founder Mac McCaughan’s recognizable Gibson Marauder sat onstage for the entire night, foreshadowing his band’s eventual headline set.
And while we waited for that inevitability, two bands from Merge’s past made waves. Recently reunited NYC band Versus, who bounced around with several labels in the ’90s but released three titles on Merge between 1999 and 2000, sounded completely vibrant and contemporary, particularly on 1993’s “Blade of Grass,” a buoyant mash up of boy-girl vocals that should be required listening for upstarts like Ra Ra Riot and Pains of Being Pure at Heart.
Later, in the night’s penultimate timeslot, New Zealand noisesmiths 3Ds dusted themselves off after more than a decade of dormancy. “You’ll have to bear with us,” said bassist Denise Roughan. “We don’t know what the fuck we’re doing.” But what they did end up doing turned those unfamiliar with the band into an adoring mob, as guitarists Dominic Stones and David Saunders unleashed delicate, piercing solos and throbbing waves of feedback.
But the night — and, to a large extent, this entire week — is about Superchunk and the label that McCaughan and bassist Laura Ballance founded.
Their set turned the Cradle into one big college basement party, replete with emphatic pogoing and sing alongs — the sheer euphoria of “Slack Motherfucker” and “Detroit Has a Skyline Too” offset occasionally by more demure gems like “Driveway to Driveway.”
Smushed against the stage by a surge of bouncing, sweaty thirtysomethings during the set-closing “Precision Auto,” I lost all desire to tweet, text, or photograph, and just hoped that, if I managed to emerge unscathed, I’d be able to remember where I parked the rental car.