Monday, July 11, 2011

After the Last Laugh - IfIHadAHiFi opens for Archers of Loaf in Chicago

HiFi blasts through our Mission of Burma cover--photo by g33kgrrl K

July 9, 2011

Archers of Loaf have just finished their set on night #2 of a two-night stand at Chicago's Bottom Lounge, and have walked offstage to a flurry of high-fives and hugs, many of them from the members of my band. As the audience screams and chants "Let's go Loaf!" in the hopes of an (obviously impending) encore, HiFi utility infielder Rev.Ever jokes, "hey guys! Let's play another song and bum them out!"

Archers bassist and all-around crucial dude Matt Gentling cracks up. "That would be hilarious!" I look at him and say, "you want us to just run on stage and do a lap and fake everyone out?"

Matt has a twinkle in his eye, but he goes to pow-wow with his Archers bandmates on what the encore is going to be. When he returns to the stage steps, he says, "ok, go, run out there."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Do it!"

And so 700 people waiting to erupt in applause when Archers of Loaf return for their encore explode upon seeing four bodies run onto the stage, only to double-take when they realize it's the opening band. "WHOOO--HUH? Um, uh, ok, whatever, WHOOOOOO!"

We run off stage, doubled over and sides split, as Archers take the stage and launch into "Audiowhore," the opening track of one of the greatest EPs in 1990s indie rock, Vs. The Greatest of All Time.

But i should back up, right? I mean, i just blew my load on this post, opening it with the highest point of a day full of nothing but high points. For the record, yes--my band, IfIHadAHiFi, opened for the Archers of Loaf at the Bottom Lounge on Saturday, one of several reunion shows that the Archers are playing in this, the thirteenth year since they broke up in 1998. In 1998, Yale Delay, Mr. "The Fucking Wizard" Alarm and i formed The Pop Machine--a precursor to the HiFi--with our friend Mandy. Had you told me the day we heard about the breakup of my fourth-favorite band of all time (sorry, Archers, you were just edged out of the top spot by Brainiac, Faith No More, and Poster Children, but you did sneak in just ahead of Superchunk!), "hey, don't worry, DJ--in 13 years they'll not only reunite, but you'll be playing one of the reunion shows," i likely would have slapped you for mean-spirited sarcastic taunting.

For the last 13 years, as several heroes of mine either reunited or reconvened to play shows again (Mission of Burma, Man...or Astroman?, Killdozer, and the aforementioned Faith No More, Superchunk and Poster Children), the one reunion that i ached for was Archers of Loaf. All four band members were still around; they were all still friends; and there seemed to be a lot of interest for a reunion out there on the Internet, so what was the holdup? RRRRGH!

In January, Archers of Loaf played an unannounced surprise reunion gig at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC. This happened the same night that the Green Bay Packers delivered a surprising ass-waxing to the #1 seeded Atlanta Falcons in the NFC playoffs. I was in the middle of a show i was playing with Zebras and freaking out at the realization that the Packers were a legit Super Bowl threat when my friend Jim sent me the text: "Holy shit, i have been informed that Archers of Loaf are playing a secret reunion gig in North Carolina AS I TYPE THIS." What the fuck, Jim? How can you send me this text when my brain is still humming from the Packer game? A Super Bowl run is imminent and NOW you text me that ARCHERS OF LOAF ARE PLAYING A SHOW? Do you realize that synaptic shutdown is imminent, dick?

I provide this exposition to fully convey the weight of the situation as i typed the following message to Matt Gentling via the Electrical Audio Forum shortly after the Chicago shows were announced in April:

Hi Matt,

I'm sure that A) this is a long shot, B) you probably have friends' bands in mind, and C) you don't need random strangers bugging you about this stuff, but i figured it can't hurt to ask:

My band, ifIHadAHiFi, would loooove to be considered for an opening slot on either of the Bottom Lounge shows. We've played there before with our friends Poster Children, and went over very well. Our tunes are all here:

Again, i'm sure you have other bands in mind, so don't feel bad saying, "yeah, thanks but no thanks," but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

That he responded with an enthusiastic "hey man, yeah, i'll see what i can do!" instead of a "you're not the ones who'll let us down, but thanks for offering," was above-and-beyond in and of itself. That he managed to put us on the bill for Saturday's show just because i asked nicely on a whim and sent some mp3s was nothing short of heroic.

But as most fans of the band have always known, that's just par for the course for a band so self-effacing, humble, and averse to typical Rock Star Behavior that the reason they gave for breaking up was "we were afraid we might start to really suck." That self-deprecating humor was in full display while we wandered backstage after arriving at the Bottom Lounge on Saturday and were greeted by Matt Gentling and Eric Johnson. After a story involving a band whose name i can't remember (a name Matt said was horrible, "not that we should talk"), we launched into a volley of tour travel stories about mouses running across faces, competing with band members for the warmth of the dog living at the house where they're staying, and our favorite--making sandwiches with Weezer's catering. ("They had the same set list and EXACT SAME BANTER every night, so we could time it and make huge Dagwood sandwiches in their dressing room and then leave before their set was done.") We talked about mutual friends the Poster Children and how amazing they are, Elliott and his recovery from the onstage shock in Austin, and random other items of note until the Archers were summoned to the stage for soundcheck.

My friends always react in disbelief when they hear me say this, but to this day, i get very nervous before playing big shows. As familiar face after familiar face arrived and asked me how excited i was for the show to start, i quite literally felt faint once or twice during the runup between doors and the start of our set. I've seen too much weird shit happen during HiFi sets over the years to be confident that things would go off without a hitch. When we opened for The Jesus Lizard in 2009 i cramped up so hard during the first two or three songs that i knew it was hampering our sound. Fortunately i planned ahead and ate a banana during the afternoon. Tarim bless potassium and its magical anti-cramping powers. On top of everything else, the night before saw our friends Blank Banker deal with a rack tom spilling to the floor and severing Jeff's bass cable during their first song. Was there an opening band curse we would need to deal with? All it takes is one trigger to completely derail a HiFi set and send a bass guitar flying into my face or a PA speaker onto Yale's head. Great myth-making hijinks, but not the sort of thing that wins over 700 people prepared to sit on their hands awaiting their heroes while the opening act fucks around.

So yeah. Nervous. Fortunately i had my bandmates in back to calm my nerves a bit, as well as the Archers guys saying "have a great show!"

We walked out on stage to--thank god--familiar heckling from friends in the front row. Our peeps know how to put us at ease: by talking shit. The Wizard declared that he was "essentially playing for about five people right here," as i announced the name of the band, the first song, and counted off "We Fiddle, You Burn." We were off and, much to my relief, we were sounding great. I purposely dialed back my usually overexcited drumming and focused on deep breathing between wacky drummer faces (mind you, my "scaling back" is most drummers' idea of "kicking it into overdrive," on a scale of "Charlie Watts" to "Animal").

Our setlist:
We Fiddle, You Burn / Paradise By the Paulding Light / Your Head on a Ratings Spike / (The HiFi Vs.) Potential Energy / Imperial Walker / Black Holes Resonate (in B-Flat), Baby / Arson, You Let Me Down / Doubting Thomas Telescope / No More Music / That's How I Escaped My Certain Fate

We played an all-pop songs set that garnered more and more applause as the set wore on. Yale did his usual fucking with the crowd thang, snuggling up to dudes in the front row, taking their beers and drinking them, etc. The Wizard and Rev.Ever thrashed away on stage right and even got the crowd to laugh at some random Temple of the Dog joke that the Wizard made. I introduced "Imperial Walker" as our song "for anyone here who's a state union employee in Wisconsin" to applause and cheers. I introduced "Doubting Thomas Telescope" as "this song we wrote about a guy who lives outside of Baraboo and makes sculptures out of scrap metal" and in response heard calls of "yeah! Dr. Evermor!" Woah, the audience is getting my references and applauding them. This is crazy! I told Elliott's tale and pimped his benefit show at Quenchers on Saturday.

And every so often i was able to take the time to look out into the audience and see familiar faces everywhere. I saw a head about a third of the way back in the crowd, bobbing maniacally. I focused on it to see that it was our man John Hastie of Nonagon. All i had to do was glance slightly to my right to see Liz dancing her ass off up front, surrounded by loads of Milwaukee and Chicago pals. It really just put things over the top for me--we were killing it in front of 700 people and our friends saw us doing it. "Mommy! Daddy! I'm riding my bike without training wheels! Do you see? Do you see? Lookit!"

We left the stage after our Burma cover to a roaring ovation and i was greeted off-stage by a Matt Gentling hug. "HOLY SHIT! You guys are FACE-PEELING! That was AMAZING!" Mark Price, P.I: "Dude, i can't even imagine trying to sing and drum at the same time."

Rev.Ever broke a guitar string during the set, right before "Black Holes." Matt volunteered to change the string for him during the song. After our set he laughed about it: "so there i am, trying to change Michael's guitar string, and Matt (Archers roadie/tech) grabs it from me and says, 'give me that, you fucking amateur.'"

Back by the merch table, our pal Faiz recounted standing next to Matt during the set. "Matt was leaning over and saying, 'these guys are GREAT!' and i was all, 'uh, yeah! They do this in small clubs too, you know. It gets dangerous.'" The Wizard then popped over to inform us that Bob Weston (the Archers' soundman for the night) walked past him and said, "nice cover." Having completely forgotten that he's the tape loop guy in Mission of Burma now, that cracked me up more than a little.

I grabbed Liz as we heard the cheers of impending AoL-ness and dragged her backstage to watch the set from the side of the stage with me. There was no way i was going to be able to rock out up front after the exhausting set we had just played, so i remained content with exclaiming "HOLY SHIT!" as the Archers opened with "Strangled By the Stereo Wire," the blistering opener to All the Nation's Airports and the first Archers song my friend Nicole, at that point in the front row with the rest of our crew, had ever heard (i know this because i played it for her). Big chunks of the set were spent by Liz and me watching the faces of our friends flipping out in the front row, and loving every minute of it. This was us the night before, losing our goddamn minds because holy fuck the Archers of Loaf are finally playing music in front of me again. Thank you Raptor Jesus.

After the third song, Matt pops up to the mic to deliver this one: "Thanks to IfIHadAHiFi, who, judging by the numbers when they played and the numbers now, most of you saw...fortunately...because they kicked fucking ass. Those pricks. Total assholes too, playing like that, sheesh..." You know, because the Best Night Of My Musical Existence still had more Awesome Sauce to drizzle on top.

Things went nuclear for the Rev. when Eric Bachmann's amp broke on him mid-set. Yale ran over to Roadie Matt and let him know what kinds of amps we had. Bachmann opts for Rev.Ever's Sunn amp with Marshall-style half-stack, and between Matt, Yale, and Rev., they have that amp on stage and plugged in with a quickness. "Hey, check it out, IfIHadAHiFi helping us out," says Eric into the mic. Rev.Ever runs off stage and i catch him with a "dude, Eric Bachmann's playing through your shit. Process that," at which point he shakes his head in disbelief and runs out to the crowd to be with his girlfriend Kim. "Dude, he played FIVE OF MY FAVORITE SONGS EVER through my amp," he would add later.

Somewhere in here, deep into my third post-performance tallboy, i turned to Liz and expressed a sentiment in no way influenced by the cheap pilsners tumbling down my throat: "I am so glad you're here to share this with me." She was equally glad, getting to spend an evening watching her boy, with his boys, doing their boys in bands thing, and doing it to an unprecedented degree. But i found it imperative that i let her know exactly how important this aspect of the weekend was:

I had just played a kickass show--a solid, tightly-wound defense of our central noise-rock thesis in front of 700 critics waiting for their heroes--and not only won over the crowd, but earned the praise of one of my favorite bands of all time. And i got to share it with a lot of my favorite people in the world--most importantly, her. And as a bonus, all our friends in the audience couldn't respond with a "yeah, ok guys" when recounting our Big Rock Victory to them weeks later! Score!

During that conversation with Faiz by the merch table, i had him tell Liz about all the crazy art projects he's worked on in Chicago the last few years, and how he lives his life in constant bewilderment that he gets to surround himself with the most talented, amazing people he's ever met, and get paid to make them execute the cockamamie schemes he concocts. When he finished, i just looked at him, thinking about the day i was having, and said, "we really do lead charmed lives, don't we?" Hey, i may not have a job right now, but this just happened.


And that realization came before the Archers let us take a curtain call before their encore.

There are way too many people to thank for this past weekend. Thanks to the Bottom Lounge for treating us so well. Thanks to our friends for being there for us.

AoL salutes! Photo by John Yingling

And thanks to Eric, Matt, Eric and Mark for giving us reason after reason to love them more and more as the day went into evening. The Greatest of All Time.

Thanks to our new fan Jenny Straub for the photo


  1. totally got all misty-eyed reading this. so happy i was there.

    for the record, i totally welled up a bunch of times during your set too. afterward, some girls in the bathroom were talking about how they dug your set, and i wanted to shake them and yell, "those are my boys! i love those boys!" but instead i just grinned and said, "yeah, i know, right?"

  2. Awesome write up DJ! This is pretty much exactly how I feel about our 2010 PRF BBQ set.

  3. Sounds like an awesome time.