Archers of Loaf
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Saturday, June 25
Better than: The banging club night going on next door at Public Assembly, where outside the line stretched around the corner and a guy had passed out on the sidewalk.
Some might think it’s a slight exaggeration to say that Archers of Loaf were the epitome of 1990s indie rock, but it’s an arguable position. The band did what it did better than a lot of its contemporaries. Like Pavement, Archers’ music was pleasingly sloppy, but it was free of formless jamming and overly cryptic lyrics. Like Superchunk, the guitars grated and swelled into massive waves of punk-rock distortion and squealing bent strings, but they rarely fell back on form-and-file pop-punk power chords. And like Built to Spill, they knew how to write a perfect indiepop tune, sometimes slowing it down and letting Eric Bachmann’s scorched-throat singing carry a song, but they didn’t let sweetness or sentimentality soften the deal. Since Archers’ demise in 1998, only Bachmann has really continued making music via his pleasantly folksy project Crooked Fingers, although CF has never come close to the visceral slapdash of his former band. Then again, that might have been the point—at the very least, his vocal chords needed a rest.
First up on Saturday was some mildly annoying Guitar Center jamming from the duo known as Sanaton, a half hour of drums and guitar freakout. Next, the music critic band Mr. Dream took the stage (joined by their friend Matt LeMay—now with 30 percent more music critic!) to offer up a weirdly cold set that referenced Jesus Lizard, Pixies, and Talking Heads. For the most part, it failed to inspire the crowd, most of whom remained at the basement bar until the Archers took the stage.
Archers’ members are hovering somewhere around the ugly side of 40, but they played like a band half their age. The crowd, a bit less geriatric than one might imagine, responded heartily with chants of “Welcome back!” as the set began. Bassist Matt Gentling, who looks a lot like Steve Zahn in Treme, did most of the talking, cracking goofy jokes and explaining why they wouldn’t be playing “Toast.” It had something to do with him missing a fret that he ruined when he was younger… anyway, it made Eric laugh.
Beginning with “Audiowhore,” Archers melted the exuberant crowd’s faces with a set on full blast, and the only defense was to sing as loud as possible right back at them. Bachmann’s years spent crooning Crooked Fingers tunes has clearly affected his Archers delivery. The gruffness was there, but a bit of his Neil Diamond impersonation crept through on songs like “Scenic Pastures” and “Dead Red Eyes.” Gentling explained that he appreciated the extra few hundred backup vocals because he had a sore throat from drinking with some Aussies the night before.
The night’s sequencing was spot-on. It’s hard to hear “You and Me” without expecting the first snare crack of “Might” to follow, as it does on Icky Mettle, and that was the order in which they were played. (“Lowest Part is Free” and “Freezing Point,” and “Worst Defense” and “Attack of the Killer Bees,” were similarly paired.) The band knew what people wanted to hear, and they went so far as to work a few requests from the night into their second encore.
So why have the men of Loaf reunited? For the cash? For the thrills? For the groupies? Most likely a little bit for the cash, but judging by their performance, also for the love of playing these songs. They looked like they were having a lot of fun up on stage, and it was a joy to see them rocking out, rocking out, rocking out, as Bachmann loudly asserted on “Fabricoh.”
Critical bias: I spent many days in college drinking Lucy Lager, eating cheese, and listening to Archers of Loaf with my girlfriend at the time. It sounds pathetic, but was actually really character-building.
Random notebook dump: Eric Bachmann is truly a gargantuan man.
Harnessed in Slums
You and Me
Lowest Part is Free
Form and File
Dead Red Eyes
Attack of the Killer Bees
Greatest Of All Time
Web in Front
What Did You Expect?
Smokin’ Pot In The Hot City