|Rare photo of bassist without blurry edges.|
We're back after a short hiatus. Day Seventeen (the days march on, inexorably) found us at the Loft, that upstairs room at Gilley's, at 10:40 p.m., watching the reunited '90s indie band Archers of Loaf take the small stage.
Tickets were twenty dollars, with about two hundred people in attendance, not too bad for a Sunday night after the Mavs won the Super Bowl, or so we hear.
It was a mostly male crowd. In fact, a good percentage of the people there resembled Rivers Cuomo.
We approached the AoL show from two different perspectives. R was a fairly big fan in the '90s, but hadn't listened to them in over a decade. N had heard of them, of course, but knew next to nothing about their sound. They're akin to Pavement and the Pixies: guitar-focused; going from quiet to loud and back; with personal, sometimes free-association lyrics.
The group reformed in January of this year; this summer tour is their first since 1998. They certainly didn't appear rusty this evening, though. They took the stage (after hanging around a bit, mostly unrecognized, by the merch table) with the calm assurance of long-time veterans, started off hard and fast, played together as if with a single mind, and blew through the set list with few distractions.
An early, brief, interruption came after the first song, when drummer Mark Price asked for his entire kit to be turned up: it was a good call. Bassist Matt Gentling was a whirling blur most of the time, once stepping halfway off the stage's edge while pogoing about, but he stayed upright. Singer and professional tall person Eric Bachmann, in terrific voice all night, took a seat at one point to play keys on his lap for a slow intro to "Dead Red Eyes," but that transition was handled quickly and smoothly as well.
At one point while guitars were being switched out, Matt took the opportunity to tell a joke: a horse walks into a bar. The bartender says, "Why the long face?" (a line yelled out in advance by some wiseguy who thought he'd let everyone know he'd heard it before). The horse replies, "Because I have AIDS." Keeping the audience on their toes, you see. He also opened a beer with a water bottle in one fluid motion, then went right back to rocking --- no mean feat, we think you'll agree.
Bloopy instrumental intros. Lots of guitar switching. Modulator noises and fuzz. Drums kicking in hard. Angry-sounding, rapid vocals. Shades of Sebadoh, My Morning Jacket, Flaming Lips.
Many in the crowd were clearly long-time fans. When the band got quiet, everyone settled in to listen; you could've heard a pin drop, if Eric hadn't been playing guitar and singing quietly. Then when the noise kicked in, there were air-punching singalongs, as on "You And Me," "Greatest of All Time," and "Might."
R found himself recognizing the songs, remembering how much he loved them, and decided he still loved the band. They were playing better than on the original records, he thought.
N showed his appreciation by yelling out, "Aaaaaarchers!" R told him to stop that.
Some of our favorites were "Plumbline" ("she's an indie rocker, nothing's gonna stop her"); the very catchy minor hit "Web In Front" ("all I ever wanted was to be your spine"; "you're not the one who let me down, but thanks for offering"), and the superb finale, "Harnessed in Slums," which was so fast and savage it could have come from a Dropkick Murphys or SubHumans show.
Afterwards, R got the band to sign his poster. Mark, staying around stage to help pack up, was as nice and approachable as could be.
In sum: Perhaps Loft promoter Kris Youmans gave the best summation when he said, "Nobody knows how to write rock songs like this anymore." It was fierce, guitar-based rock, very much a product of the early '90s indie scene, but the songs still sound great, and the personal lyrics can still hit home. R said that even if he'd never heard of them, he would have left this show with every one of their freshly-purchased albums in hand. They put on a fantastic show, bonded with the audience (congratulating Dallas on the Mavs win), and came across as a talented, fun bunch of guys to hang out with. Just like they started out, back in 1990 in Chapel Hill.