If you wanted to view the whole thing as a timely, scathing indictment of current indie rock trends, from the irritating focus on fashion and physical appearance to, yes, the recent dominance of lo-fi as a crutch and an all too transparent cover-up for a lack of ideas and/or chops, well, you definitely could.
Indifferently dressed in far-from-skinny jeans and nondescript t-shirts, the recently reunited Archers of Loaf take the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday night, and it feels from the very first notes like a wake-up call. The quiet, trebly intro of the opener is reproduced perfectly, and then it's a full-on attack. Two guitars, bass and drums kick in simultaneously, as does massively imposing frontman Eric Bachmann: "AUDIOWHORE" is the first word out of his mouth. He screams it clearly, and even though in the context of the song (of the same name), it doesn't exactly sound like a term of endearment, it does right now.
Not 15 seconds into their set, and the Archers have already started doing what they always did so well, better than anyone, in fact, throughout much of the 90s: they're playing loud, guitar-based indie rock that is proudly, unmistakably aggressive yet far from showy or bone-headed. They tune excessively, fiddle endlessly with volume knobs and tone knobs, and they seem generally disinterested in anything but the sound coming through the speakers. They're incredibly exacting in the way they attack, and it suddenly feels like a slap in the face that no one else really is anymore.
Nearly every song is a crowd favorite, but the ones from their 1994 debut, Icky Mettle, get the warmest reception. Their first encore consists of three songs from that album: "Wrong," "Plumb Line" and "Slow Worm." "You and Me" and "Might" appear back to back a little earlier, just like on the record. "Web in Front," the band's most unabashedly pop-oriented track, is still one of indie rock's most enduring sing-alongs, immediately recognizable by its count-off. Crack, crack, crack, crack, crack. And then everyone in unison, even the people who only know the one song, this one, "Stuck a pin in your backbone." It doesn't make a lot of sense. It never has, but we revel in it all the same: "There's a chance that things will get weird. Yeah, that's a possibility."
It would be silly to pretend that over the course of four albums plus a few EPs and singles, the Archers of Loaf weren't responsible for some perfectly forgettable moments, but what's most striking during this 90-minute set is not only just how many really great songs they had, but that they really do span their entire career. 1995's Vee Vee (as far as I'm concerned, a much better album than Icky Mettle) is well represented by "Harnessed in Slums," "Fabricoh" and the winking show-closer "Nostalgia." The brilliant Vs the Greatest of All Time EP from 1994 is played almost in its entirety; that "Revenge," "The Lowest Part is Free," "Freezing Point" and "Audiowhore" don't even appear on a proper full-length is simply crazy. There's "Scenic Pastures," "Form and File" and "Worst Defense" from All the Nation's Airports, and there's "What Did You Expect?" from a long out of print 7" (also available on rarities collection The Speed of Cattle). We even get "Dead Red Eyes" from the band's very much underrated 1998 swan song White Trash Heroes.
These songs, all of them, are hard-hitting and technically impressive; they're cleverly structured and delivered with just the right combination of self-loathing and defiant arrogance. They're overflowing with great one-liners and subtle insights, not to mention highly effective melodies that spring from out of nowhere. They sound perfect here in June of 2011, but they also sound dated. This is our problem, though. Not theirs.
Photo by Joseph Nienstedt.