With apologies to fans of Conor Oberst, the Desaparecidos’ late desapareciding act from Fun Fun Fun Fest turned out to be a bonus for many Saturday attendees, who flocked to the Black Stage for a terrific late-afternoon set by archetypal indie-rockers Archers of Loaf. If they’re now elder statesmen of the genre that dominates the festival’s lineup, they showed why in a blazing 50-minute set that was equal parts brilliant songwriting and full-on rock ‘n’ roll energy.
“We’d like to thank rock ‘n’ roll as a concept,” frontman Eric Bachmann said at the outset, and if it was a joke, it felt grounded in the band having stayed true to that conceptual spirit, even after a long hiatus. Apart more than a decade before they started playing occasional shows again in 2011, Bachmann and bassist Matt Gentling, guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Mark Price — still the same four guys who started playing together in North Carolina in the early ’90s — all look a bit older, naturally, but they still catch fire onstage.
The key, then and now, is that Bachmann is one of indie rock’s best songwriters. From the opening crusher “Audiowhore” to the midtempo melodic charmer “Scenic Pastures” to the dramatic whisper-to-a-slam dynamics of “You and Me,” he consistently marries creative lyrical phrases to musical structures that challenge and, importantly, change significantly from song to song. Archers of Loaf are indie rock in its most positive manifestation; for them, the form is a doorway to a range of sounds rather than a limitation to a narrow style.
And, yes, the “hits” arrived late. If Archers of Loaf never had a smash single, “Web in Front” from 1993’s “Icky Mettle” became an indie touchstone, and Bachmann still sounded energized when he shouted out its bracing line, “All I ever wanted was to be your spine.” Even better was the set-closing “Wrong,” with Gentling, Johnson and Price attacking their instruments behind Bachmann in a final sprint to the finish. Stronger sets that theirs at this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest will be few and far between.