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TBTS Reviews: Archers of Loaf at The Earl, Atlanta, 7/22/2011

July 23, 2011

It was a scene I hadn’t seen in 13 years and frankly never thought I’d see again. Hyperactive bassist Matt Gentling stage right, thrashing and flailing about like a wounded goose. Singer/guitarist Eric Bachmann center stage, shouting through a characteristic sneer his frequently odd, obscure lyrics about youthful confusion and flawed communication. Rock-solid drummer Mark Price behind Bachmann, the picture of stoic competence. And guitarist Eric Johnson stage left, cranking out bizarre but perfectly suited squeaks and squawks, doing what I heard one audience member praise as “fucking up on purpose” at a show in 1995 or so.

I never thought I’d see it again, but I saw it last night. My favorite band from my late teens and early 20s, now grayer, rounder in the face and belly (aren’t we all), nearly a decade and a half removed from the last time they toured as the Archers of Loaf. I’ll admit I’m biased—they could have sucked and I still probably would have had a shit-eating grin on my face the whole time. But friends, I think I can say with some degree of objectivity that last night the Archers brought it, killed it, and I’m sure they’re doing the same at most all the stops on this unexpected, gloriously welcome reunion tour. You want a four-word review of the Archers of Loaf live in 2011? Go see ‘em, dumbnuts!

Go buy this EP and all their records, and go see 'em live, or I will hunt you down with a hockey stick.

But here are a few other notes if you’re looking for more information about last night’s show:

1.            My only complaint was the sound at the Earl. Ridiculously bass-heavy for the Archers’ sound, which was originally conceived and executed back when shitty clubs had shitty sound systems that couldn’t handle mic’ed drums. I’m talking above my pay grade, but I’m pretty sure Mark Price’s bass drum was mic’ed, and the bass hits bled into each other such that there was an  unbroken thudding groan throughout every song. The only distinct drum hit I could hear all night was the snare, and the bottom end nearly overwhelmed the guitars and vocals a few times. So, negative points for the setting, unfortunately, because of the sound system.

2.            But God, the Archers played and sang great, and the songs were tighter and more perfect than I remember them. Bachmann’s evolved into a fantastic singer over the years while playing generally quieter stuff as Crooked Fingers, and he’s brought that better ear for vocals with him back to the Archers. It seemed to me like he now hears his vocals in some Archers songs slightly differently, and he now has the skills to change some of his delivery ever so slightly, and all for the better. Better yet, the full band’s timing and integration were darn near impeccable. The reformed Archers are, as Paul Giamatti said in Sideways, “tighter than a nun’s asshole.” Best of all? It seemed to me that the band was having a killer time and getting a huge kick out of playing to the joyous, delirious crowd, who shouted along the lyrics to at least a half dozen of the most well-known songs.

3.            They played a few songs I wasn’t expecting to show up on the set list, especially “Fabricoh,” “Nostalgia,” and “What Did You Expect.” I lost it during “What Did You Expect,” one of the Archers’ earliest songs and always one of my favorites. In daily life, words such as “Hated at home, what did you expect, why’s the man always tryin’ to keep me DOOOOWWWWWNNN” don’t have much intrinsic meaning for me anymore (nor for the Archers, I would imagine). But last night I was screaming along, and those words felt like a freakin’ battle cry. Malcontents of the world, unite!

4.            Speaking of this idea—I was struck by the fascinating scene of men in their early 40s (I’m guessing) playing songs and singing lyrics that are so emblematic of a 1990s 20-something mindset, and I couldn’t help projecting that feeling onto a few facial expressions I saw from Eric Bachmann during the set. I wondered what he was thinking while he was singing lyrics he wrote nearly 20 years ago, presumably about himself or a version of himself, such as “Always the east coast, always the asshole, doing the right thing at the wrong time, hangin’ half drunk any time, all the time.” His rendering of such lyrics is now of course filtered through an additional 15+ years of experiences, whatever those might be. Same goes for my “hearing” of such lyrics. In that regard, several moments during last night’s set were damn poignant.

5.            The encore was a full, sequential playback of what I think is the Archers’ finest, most cohesive recorded work—the 5-song, 20-minute Archers of Loaf Vs. the Greatest of All Time EP. I don’t know if they intended to do it from the beginning, or if they just “rewarded” the Atlanta crowd’s enthusiasm with that gift, but there was a unity and perfection to the idea and to their execution that I can’t even begin to describe. Every strength that I’ve described above was reinforced and amplified by this presentation. So many strands of my past, and the past I share with the lifelong friend with whom I saw the show, into which the Archers of Loaf are tightly woven, felt like they were converging during the show’s closing. We were boys then, all of us. Now we’re men with tenfold or a hundredfold more obligations than we once had. But, at least for one night, we weren’t too old to feel young once more.

For that I say, “All Hail the Loaf!”

  1. Anonymous permalink
    August 1, 2011 9:14 am

    Great post! I saw the Sunday gig and had the best time. Sang/shouted along and lost my voice the following day. “What Did You Expect” was my all time favorite and it was unreal hearing it live for the first time (I saw them in 1995 and they did not do it). I’m one of those 40 something in the crowd and that night, I may have looked 25 or 16. Loved it.

  2. Lloyd permalink
    August 1, 2011 2:27 pm

    Same here, fellow Archers fan from the “old days.” Since Sunday was your night, I hope you got there early and saw the opening band “Birdsmell,” AKA Band of Horses. What an awesome surprise that would have been!


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