Wednesday, November 25, 2015

DVD Review: What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet
What Did You Expect? The Archers of Loaf: Live at Cat’s Cradle
Produced, directed and edited by Gorman Bechard
What Were We Thinking Films
88 minutes, 2011 / 2012

The 1990s was a good time for indie music. Just listen to Mary Lou Lord’s song from that period, “His Indie World,” and you’ll possibly think, “Oh, yeah, right.” One of the bands not mentioned in the song though, was the Archers of Loaf, hailing out of Ashville and Chapel Hill, NC.

Everybody seems to talk about how bad a band name it is, but what I never hear anyone say is that it’s actually the “badness” that first absorbs the attention of the listeners. In other words, people will remember the name better if it’s badder [sic].

That being said, what the band is most memorable for is their music, of course. As director Gorman Bechard describes them on the DVD cover: “Archers of Loaf were the greatest indie rock band of the ‘90s. No one had more energy on stage. No one put out better records.” You might even say he is a fan (yeah, I’m bein’ a smartass).

The group formed in the early ‘90s, broke up in the late ‘90s, and reformed again for short tours (one of the band members refer to themselves as “weekend warriors”) in 2011, when this concert was filmed by seven pretty steady handheld cameras at the Cat’s Cradle, in Carrboro, NC, a mere few hours from their home turf.

Well, enough with the history lesson, let’s examine the documentary. Before anything, let me state that one of my pet peeves in concert footage is quick edits, I prefer slower and longer shots, to see what the band is doing musically (e.g., watching hands on frets). The tendency is to match the music to the edits, and with indie or punk bands, the inclination is to do extremely quick shots. For this film, the edits fall somewhere in the middle. Bechard uses medium length clips that are not gonna be flashing so fast it could set off a grand mal, but it’s not lingering, either. It’s a pretty decent flipping camera-to-camera ratio.

Most of the cameras, however, are either from the back, the side, long shots of the whole stage, or close-up to vocalist Eric Bachmann; often it’s hard to make out exactly what they’re playing. However, some of the camera work is excellent, such as the one to the far stage left near guitarist-lawyer Eric Johnson, which often manages to get his guitar and the rest of the band at a great angle.

The Archers had four albums, so at this point when they play live they are a more or less a Greatest Hits group, like the Beach Boys. This is not a criticism, it’s just the fact. Luckily the music holds up after all these years. You can see it in the faces of the fans who look like they were in infancy when the Archers was originally active, and they mouth along with the songs. That’s a testament to both the band and the material.

The band takes a song or two to settle in, especially Bachmann’s vocals, but by the time the ballad “Greatest of All Time” comes up, he’s in top form. Some of my favorite bands have that couple of songs warm-up, so that’s not unusual. Except for some gray here and there and some hair loss on a couple of them, their energy levels were on full force. This is especially true for bassist Matt Gentling, rocking ripped cargo shorts, and just plain physically rocking…and jumping…and moving.

The Archers of Loaf sound is definitive ‘90s, with jangling guitarwork full dissonance, discordant chording and almost atonal melodies, but manage songs that you can sing along with, which is one of their strengths. It should be noted that they are one of the early proponents of that particular sound, and helped popularize it.

That style definitely feels strong here, thanks to the concert audio recording and mixing by Minnesotan bred, Carrboro living Brian Paulson, who was once in the band Man Sized Action (still have the LPs). More notably, though, he has produced recordings by this band, Wilco, Slint, Uncle Tupelo, Son Volt, Dinosaur Jr., Superchunk, etc.

Between songs, there are brief interviews with the quartet which I really found interesting, as they are a personable bunch of guys, especially Gentling. They tell of the origin of their name and the infamy of having such an unusual one, the differences of touring in a van versus a bus or plane, their friendship, and being in a band while holding other jobs, to name a few topics. For anyone who is going to be making a music documentary, please note that I (and I am assuming others) would rather the interviews have been after the film, rather than inbetween songs, because it’s harder to get into the music when it’s interrupted for talking heads, even when it’s the band doing the telling.

For the extras, there are six more songs from the same set (you can see the list below), giving you an additional almost 25 minutes of music. Also included, as Bechard is really good at giving these perks on his discs, is an additional 12+ minutes of interviews with the band, each of whom tell an extended anecdote that are worth a listen, and the trailer for the film (see below).

As for me, I still like their first song, “Wrong,” best, followed by “1985/Fabricoh.” But that’s neither here nor there, really.

Eric Bachmann: vox / guitar
Eric Johnson: guitar
Matt Gentling: bass / vox
Mark Price: drums

Song List:
Harnessed in Slums
Greatest of All Time
Lowest Part is Free
Freezing Point
What Did You Expect?
Worst Defense
Attack of the Killer Bs
You and Me
Web in Front
Slow Worm
Plumb Line
Second Encore:
Scenic Pastures
All Hail the Black Market

Bonus songs:
Dead Red Eyes
Strangled by the Stereo Wire
Form and File
Let the Loser Melt
Step Into the Light
Smoking Pot in the City

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