The weekly Pool Parties at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool opened up for business with a flat-out rocking set by the ‘maybe starting a reunion tour’ alt-grunge icons, Superchunk. The hot sun was beating down on the Pool, but a collection of corporate and local sponsors kept the entire event free, with beer tents, cell phone salesman, and slip-and-slides accompanying the music in a concert of summer fun. The giant and crumbling McCarren Park Pool (QRO venue review) was alive in ways maybe not intended by its New Deal-era builders, but with definitely the same spirit.
Perhaps now best known for founding North Carolina’s Merge Records (home of The Arcade Fire, The Clientele, and Spoon, to name a few), in the nineteen-nineties Superchunk were the ‘indie Nirvana’, sort of a grunge counterpoint to fellow Matador Records indie-rockers, Pavement. The group delivered a number of speed-meets-grunge-meets-rock-meets-melody pieces, from their self-titled debut album’s “Slack Motherfucker” (rated #19 on Spin’s ‘Best Singles of the 1990’s’) to their ‘big hit’, “Hyper Enough”. They survived through alternative music’s fallow period in the late nineties, but after 2003’s Cup of Sand singles/b-sides collection and subsequent tour, the band seemingly hung it up.
That was, until the intervention of two powerful forces: cancer and Meatwad. On June 20th, Superchunk played the Eff Cancer Benefit in Chicago, for the recently diagnosed Superchunk superfan Sean Silver. And earlier that month, Superchunk not only collaborated with Adult Swim superstar Meatwad on “Misfits and Mistakes” for Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon The Movie Colon The Soundtrack, but then released the Misfits and Mistakes 7”, with the Meatwad version on one side, and the Superchunk-solo ‘veggie’ version on the other. And only days removed from the benefit, Superchunk played this year’s inaugural Pool Party.
McCarren Park Pool, an F.D.R./Fiorello LaGuardia/WPA-style ‘great public work’ had once served as a major social hub in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg area, before urban decline and the spread of private pools led to its closure in 1984. While numerous attempts had been made at restoring it to a community recreation center, nothing ever really got off the ground until Clear Channel paid for basic safety renovations in 2005. Pockmarked and run-down, the cement and brick structure is a long ways from being a pool, but corporate concert promoters Clear Channel were able to make it an enormous venue, with Jelly NYC (managers of The Harlem Shakes, among others) creating the free Sunday afternoon Pool Party concert series, all right in the middle of the oh-so-hippest part of Brooklyn.
And Superchunk rocked the hipster heart of the hippest borough, right from the opening strains of their Foolish drunk-driving epic, “Driveway to Driveway”, to bringing it all down with their Here’s Where The Strings Come In college radio hit closer, “Hyper Enough”. The upbeat rock of Strings’s “Animated Airplanes Over Germany” followed “Driveway”, but it was Superchunk’s “Package Thief” that really over-delivered. The following few numbers slipped a bit, but the crowd was brought right back into things when the band brought out “Misfits and Mistakes”; the brand-new song almost served as a reminder of what we’ve been missing, though it admittedly does not rock as hard without Meatwad, but the Aqua Teen Hunger Force character is very right that it has “a swing beat… [that] moves so the crowd can dance”. If anything, the second half of the set rocked even harder, with bassist Laura Ballance in the air more than on ground during such numbers as the hard-hitting “European Medicine” and the grunge-thundering “Sick To Move”. And Superchunk ended the set on a high note, with pieces like No Pocky For Kitty’s timeless teen anthem “Punch Me Harder”, and the flat-out awesome crowd favorites, “Slack Motherfucker” and “Hyper Enough”.
Going into a Pool Party at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool can be a bit of a shock, as it is empty of water, but filled with swimsuits and sun-bathers; free and easy, yet run by professionals; outdoors, but surrounded by thick brick walls; wide open, however filled not with grass and trees but cement and mortar; old and falling apart, yet teeming with the young and pretty. But a lot of the same things could be said about the Borough of Homes and Churches itself. And with Superchunk ushering you in, one learns that it’s the people who make the place, no cost doesn’t mean lowered expectations, outside is wherever you want it to be, big can rock, and the old can be new again.