Archers of Loaf on point in homecoming

by Ryan Snyder

Guitarist Eric Johnson in flagrante derlicto at the Archers’ homecoming proper. (photo by Ryan Snyder)

“There’s this band called Archers of Loaf coming up next,” Electric Owls front man Andy Herod said as his band wrapped up their opening set Friday night at the Cat’s Cradle. “I saw them here. One time.”

If that reads like Herod said it — with a hint of trepidation — it’s justified. Archers of Loaf were never, ever going to be confused with a “cool” band in their heyday. They were the kind of band you sat in a beanbag chair with massive cans on your ears and blared because there were better things to do than having an afterschool job. Stacked up against the indie rock of today, the four men of Archers of Loaf were awkward, gangly, overly short, overly tall and just plain gauche. They didn’t sport wardrobes manicured to be unsettlingly hip, they didn’t wear face paint in their press photos and they never once played a hurdy gurdy. They just played noisy rock and roll with a lot of wiseass lyrics that sunk deep into the minds of disaffected Gen Xers.

The last time Herod or anyone would have had the chance to see the Chapel Hill indie-rock demigods, Clinton was president and there was a debate raging

over whether Archers of Loaf or Pavement was the superior band of Indimerica. Alas, Archers met a similarly abrupt halt when their salad decade of the ’90s expired. The unjust calumniation of White Trash Heroes was the first domino that ended with the carpel tunnel surgery of drummer Mark Price and the band’s dissolution in 1998.

But it’s 2011 and reuniting is where it’s at.

They surprised the indie-rock world back in January when they played an opening set for the Love Language at the Cat’s Cradle back in January, and later played the Sasquatch Festival and “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” They recently had their college-radio classic Icky Mettle reissued by Merge Records, and with two sold-out shows over the weekend at the Cat’s Cradle, yes, the sultans of slack, the emissaries of ennui, the Archers of Loaf are indeed back.

Amazingly, the Friday night crowd was not all paunchy, slightly wrinkled or balding thirtysomethings, but a fair mix of fans that were undoubtedly seeing a band they’ve long-admired for the first time. Archers of Loaf introduced themselves (with a keen sense of the absurd) through the bellicose, curt “Nostalgia” off of Vee Vee, with front man Eric Bachmann and guitarist Eric Johnson trading instrumental barbs like insults. Bachmann’s time in the decidedly more low-key Crooked Fingers seems to have resigned the monolithic musician to being a less animated front man, but Archers of Loaf have never been want for energy in their sound. The floorboards at the Cat’s Cradle bowed with the crowd’s collective fit a few bars into “Fabricoh,” rocking out, as Bachmann loudly asserted.

For every rabble-rouser that the band pulled from their time capsule, there was a singalong that culminated in the money line that Bachmann could write so well. “They caught and drowned the front man/ Of the world’s worst rock and roll band” the chant began for “Greatest of All Time.” Gentling would admit later that they were up late the previous night drinking with some Australians, but whatever ill affects Bachmann may have suffered were negated by the hundreds of voices shouting in harmony when the refrain, “The underground is overcrowded” rolled around.

They’re still masters at build-up, even when they skip from the nadir to the zenith as “You and Me” testified. “I’ve been so down lately/ You’ve been so low lately,” Bachmann nearly whispered the opening verse over a sparse bass line before screaming the same verse over a cacophony of oblique power chords.

In effect, they were killing it. It was like they were in their twenties, the crowd was in their teens and Gentling still had the fifth bass string to play “Toast” on. He didn’t though. He made that clear enough when requests were shouted from the audience. Lost that string when he was a kid, he responded. The clock ticked just past midnight when he proclaimed that the band had just one more for them. The groans suggested that they might have believed anything from them at that point, but merely an hour into their show, it was far from over. They sent everyone home with an Icky Mettle-centric string of encores that concluded with a shot-from-the-hip Speed of Cattle rarity “South Carolina” on request, saving hardly anything for the next night except maybe “Bones of Her Hands” and “Scenic Pastures.” It could’ve been the first of many shows back in front of their hometown crowd, or it could have been one of the last. Either way, one slice of Loaf goes a long way.