“The underground is overcrowded.” That line from “The Greatest of All Time” isn’t just one of the best lyrics that Archers of Loaf ever penned. And it isn’t just a summation of the entire indie scene. It also happens to be an apt description for the stuffy sausage fest that overtook the subterranean chambers of the Middle East on Saturday night.
Although Eric Bachmann’s vocals mellowed out from his 20-something snotnose self, the vibe felt more like a victory lap than a reunion tour.
Mellowness did not equal softness. The frenetic energy of bassist Matt Gentling practically teleported the band back to their raw heyday, and they sounded just as tight—more polish, less sharp corners.
Archers of Loaf were in town for two nights in support of Merge’s recent reissues of Icky Mettle and Vee Vee. After opening with an ambient, electronic jam that had Bachmann ducking down and twisting nobs, they launched into “Fabricoh.” Looking around, nearly everyone knew the words: some shouted them, and others spoke them under their breath as the song jump-started a rollicking momentum.
Early highlights included “Floating Friends” and the anthemic “Greatest of All Time,” both from Vee Vee. On the former, Bachmann repeatedly sings, “All of my friends/have floated away/connect the valley to the astral plane.” With each repetition, estrangement got closer to enlightenment.
As the set hit its stride, one thing became apparent: While Bachmann was clearly a hulking presence on stage and a compelling frontman, it was the bassist that kept catching your eye with his whirlwind of movement.
Looking like a cross between Klaus Kinski and Viggo Mortensen, Gentling never stopped bouncing around.
He was a bass fiend of the highest order. At one point, he asked the crowd, “Did you see that thing I did a few songs ago where I was, like, swimming. That’s a new thing for me. I hope you liked it.” He’s an endearing oddball.
Although I was mainly familiar with Vee Vee, the depth of the Archers’ catalog was staggering. “Wrong” and “Freezing Point” captivated instantaneously, but it was “Web in Front” that went to a more powerful place. Aside from GBV’s “Game of Pricks”, has a song so short ever packed this much of a sternum punch?
The throbbing keys of “White Trash Heroes” closed the set with a haunting Springsteen-gone-electro earnestness. The sequencing and synths created a bookend of sorts, both opening and closing a set of straight ahead rockers.
Before Merge put out the reissues, the Archers were criminally slept on. Now, it’s safe to say they’re starting to get their due. Hopefully these ragtag rockers keep doing their thing for years to come.