Album: Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91)
. . .
While Superchunk’s version of the immortal “The Train From Kansas City” wasn’t the first version I ever heard — that would be The Shop Assistants version from their 1988 album, which I’d purchased in the wake of my love for The Primitives — it was the first one that well and truly stuck with me. Probably because I listened to Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91) way more than I listened to that Shop Assistants album, though I did put their version of “The Train From Kansas City” on a mixtape, so it musta stuck stuck out a bit.
Of course, given that “The Train From Kansas City” is essentially a perfect song, it’s definitely a choice for the Shop Assistants to not join Neko Case’s sublime live version and the sly original by The Shangri-La’s in the Certain Songs pantheon.
I should also point out that, out of all of these versions, this version by Superchunk is the deepest in my wheelhouse, featuring achingly noisy and surprisingly heavy — almost metal on the verses — guitars from Mac McCaughan and Jim McCook, as well as some great drumming from original Superchunk drummer Chuck “Chunk” Garrison.
Also appreciated: that Mac McCaughan doesn’t gender flip the lyrics, which you might remember start with a girl telling her new beau that her ex from Kansas City is on his way to see her. You see, she neglected to tell the old boyfriend that she’d found somebody new. Instead she totally ghosted him, prompting the impromptu — and very imminent — visit.
Now the train from Kansas City
Is coming into town
The train from Kansas City
Nothing I can do can make it turn around
Whoops, awwwwwwkward. I love how Garrison ups the stakes by going onto a double-time on this chorus, as well.
As always, it makes sense that maybe she didn’t want to break up with him over a letter or on the landline, kicking the problem down the road hoping that maybe the ex — who didn’t really know he was an ex — would get the hint. And as always, I wonder if the problem doesn’t make sense in these hyperconnected days.
I’m guessing that it still does, in general: someone moves away, finds somebody else, and doesn’t know how to tell their previous lover. That’s going to happen forever and forever, but maybe this exact circumstance might never happen now. Which, to me, just makes it all that much dramatic. What’s the worst that could happen? This!! This is the worst that could happen!! For everybody involved, but especially for the poor sucker who took a train all the way to Kansas City. Hopefully he didn’t purchase a return ticket for, like, two weeks later or anything.
Which is why I love how much power Superchunk’s coda has, as Mac yells “here comes that trainnnnnn!” over and over again while the rest of the band crash against each other, wham! wham! wham! wham! wham!, because nobody will ever know what happens next.
“The Train From Kansas City” was one of the b-sides of the first Superchunk single, when they were still just “Chunk,” and — along with two Sebadoh covers they recorded a bit later — showed they could make other people’s songs their own if they wanted to. That said, they mostly didn’t want to, as the vast vast majority of their songs are their songs.
“The Train From Kansas City”
“The Train From Kansas City,” live in Raleigh, 1989
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