Monday, July 9, 2007

A Single Lament

There are few things I find myself regretting in life. I tend to be the kind of person who looks to the future with a positive outlook. I can recall my mistakes, but as long as I learn from them, I am not upset by them. But as a music fan, I have one major regret. I never saw Archers of Loaf live.

I spent most of the Archers’ career away at college. I was in Michigan; it’s not like I was on Fiji or anything, but for some reason, their albums kind of passed me by. I played them occasionally on my radio show, so I’m sure I thought well of them. But they never gained serious traction with me. It could have been that college life was far too rosy to get into a band putting so much personal angst into their music. It was a time when I first learned the power of music outside of loud rock and I immediately embraced soulful acts like Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder and saw all of them live. I interviewed Richard Buckner on the air, then gave his discs a spin and discovered that country music isn’t limited to Travis Tritt and his ilk. My roommate turned me on to the blues and rightfully demanded that I embrace Fishbone, even though they kept evading us (which is a story for another day). So maybe that was enough new music to keep me busy.

Flash forward to the summer of 1999. A trying breakup occurring in proximity of my birthday is coupled with the fact that my esteemed brother is short on funds. This confluence of events leads to him giving me his copy of Icky Mettle as a gift. It is immediately evident to me that no album ever made has done as fine a job summing up a broken relationship. Lines like, “I’ve been so down lately, I’ve been so low lately, nothing seems to work out for you and me,” may come off as banal when written here, but when Eric Bachmann sung them back in 1994, he conveyed so much more than just the words themselves. It was the first time in years I really connected with a new album.

I proceeded to go through the band’s catalogue chronologically and was consistently impressed with each subsequent release. Few bands can claim as strong a second album as Vee Vee. They built on what they had already accomplished and explored new territory, but were able to maintain the hooks and songwriting that made Icky Mettle so rich. Two more studio albums followed, again breaking new ground and eventually pointing the directions for Bachmann’s new outfit, Crooked Fingers. By the time I had caught up, the band was finished.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see Crooked Fingers many times, and Bachmann playing solo twice in one night. As I said in that review, live and in person, his voice is more expressive and meaningful. While his later work is more peaceful, Archers of Loaf was a band that came at you with an axe to grind. Delivery often came through gnashed teeth. But at the same time, all of their songs carried a personal, intense perspective. And while I claim a connection to that music, the understanding and meaning is on my end. I believe in their work, yet the lyrics are often cryptic. The songs all make a point, but they never can totally win you over to their point of view because you don’t know exactly what they’re trying to tell you. However, a shared experience of those same songs would easily change everything. This is music that deserves to be seen live and in person. That’s something I was never able to do. There is an excellent live album, recorded over their last two shows and aptly titled “Seconds Before the Accident.” And while it is fantastic in its own right, it still does not quell my desire to witness an Archers performance.

Perhaps the members of the band will read this. It’s on the internet, after all. If they do, maybe they’ll understand that it’s high time for a reunion tour. I know scads of other fans who feel the same as I do. Yes, one could argue “they only had four albums, it’s not like they’re the Beatles – get over it.” But few bands have as strong a four-album repertoire. They could play three concerts worth of material and anyone who saw just one of those shows would come away satisfied.

So I sit here, hoping for an outcome I know to be unlikely. I’ll continue to attend any Bachmann-related show that comes through town, but I’ll never be quite satisfied, knowing what I’ve missed.


erik said...

nice, let me know when you're gonna be in GA. -E

"They were outta luck, cause nobody gave a fuck"

Anonymous said...

I have a personal anecdote about my fav band of all time... my 18th birthday, in Montreal (perfect timing since the show was not all ages and it was my first bar show) saw them on their tour for White Trash Heroes with Creeper Lagoon... they played all the classics and i'll never forget it, the crowd singing along to The Greatest of All Time.. I cosign the reunion idea, that would be great... any one know if the other members have done any projects since other than Bachmann???

Reed said...

Why don't you rub it in my face, Will? Just kidding. Thanks for stopping by and telling your tale. I have been trying to track down the activity of the other members, but it has largely been to no avail. At a Crooked Fingers show in Chicago, bass was played by Archers' bassist Matt Gentling. So there's hope, if only a glimmer of it. I have no idea if Bachmann and other guitarist Eric Johnson have had a falling out or not. Some day I'm going to ask him at one of his shows - just haven't had the chance yet.