Tired and on a Farewell Tour?

Bearing the cross of "Next Big Thing" since their 1993 debut, Icky Mettle, Chapel Hill, N.C.'s Archers of Loaf have never been able to put it down. Given the timing of their admission into the world and their specific geography, it was assumed by many that North Carolina would ignite the way Seattle did a few years prior. It would have been unrealistic to expect Polvo to become Pearl Jam; Superchunk is not Soundgarden, though the Archers of Loaf remained as obscure while just as dependable as Mudhoney.

Doing 200 shows a year may have ended up burning the band out, but it allowed them to incinerate audiences with hyper versions of their songs as well; encores often included passing their instruments through the crowd until chaos came through the speakers. The energy is undeniable, but what makes the Archers stand out among their indie rock peers is the sense of tension among the crisscrossed guitars.

On their records the quartet normally makes pliable pop-punk, bouncing around on guitarist/singer Eric Bachman's post-collegiate angstful confusion, given momentum by other guitarist Eric Johnson's single note squalls, and held together in a semi-permanent form by drummer Mark Price. Melding the slack-rock heroics of Pavement, the pop determination of the Pixies, and the nervous punk energy of Superchunk, they have had several moments of brilliance since Mettle's promise. That's one of the pitfalls of a great first record; everything since then can only be compared and contrasted with their masterpiece -- and nothing has been able to quite measure up.

Even the Archers have gotten bored with trying, as this is most likely AOL's farewell tour. The signs are there; Bachman has said that he enjoys his solo projects more, and the latest Loaf record, White Trash Heroes, has as much wide open space and keyboard textures as sinewy guitars and intersecting rhythms. Maybe that's because they employed Southern pop maestro Mitch Easter (R.E.M., Helium) to mix it, but I'd wager the band was tired of the sonic corner they had painted themselves into. They show a lot of life left in them, this new drifty, more electronic AOL. So, maybe the time feels right for the Archers to go away, at least to them, but it's a shame that the bands that seem to realize that they are becoming irrelevant have that insight while they are still capable of doing something about it.

-- David Simutis

The Archers of Loaf perform Thursday, November 19 at Fitzgerald's, 2706 White Oak. Doors open at 8:00 pm. Tickets are $8.

Cherry Poppin' Daddies -- Jon Favreau tapped into a long-dormant pop-culture vein a few years ago with his indie hit film, Swingers, which did way more for the new swing movement than any other Rat Pack-wannabe films that came down the chute in the early-to-mid nineties. Then came the boom, and the Cherry Poppin' Daddies, along with Squirrel Nut Zippers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the Brian Setzer Orchestra started finding their way into the CD collections of martini-swilling hipsters everywhere. With eclectic groovesters Ozomatli and pure ska-punk rockers the Pietasters. Wednesday, November 25, 8 p.m. Aerial Theater at Bayou Place, 520 Texas. Tickets: $17.50, available through Ticketmaster at 629-3700. (Melanie Haupt)

Meat Beat Manifesto -- In the late 80s and early 90s, MBM was known for their industrial dance vibe. (Anyone remember "Psyche-out," from 1992's 99%?) But leader Jack Dangers has taken the group in a new direction over the past few years, that of cyber-flavored, technology-driven loops. So, while MBM is keeping up with the times, their brothers in electronica -- Prodigy, the Chemical Brothers and The Future Sound of London -- continue to sample MBM's old stuff, proving that no matter how much you evolve, your younger, sleeker peers will never let you forget where you came from. Meat Beat Manifesto plays Thursday, November 19 at Numbers, 300 Westheimer. Doors open at 8 p.m. Josh Wink and Q Burns Abstract Message open. (Melanie Haupt)

Hovercraft -- A Hovercraft show is much more than a band playing live; it's a total sensory immersion. The tension between Seattle's Hovercraft's three players (bass, drum, guitar) is palpable, dynamic and fluid. The soundscape they produce is a powerhouse, a supernova of noise; all this to accompany (better yet, to underscore) a visually stunning 16mm film collage projected behind them, with found images from the halls of science, seamlessly edited to intrigue, with natural disasters, outer space beauty and the like. Hovercraft roots listeners (and viewers) to the spot with sheer sonic force. Imagine scoring an oscilloscope, or someone's EKG or the ultrasound images of your unborn baby. The music twists and transcends the moment, and before you know it, the show's over. The film ends. You're left to your own devices, to wander and ponder and empty out. They're here in support of their new release, experiment below (Mute). Hovercraft opens for K Records artist ICU, another aural treat, so show up early and don't dare leave. Hovercraft at Zelda's, 2706 White Oak Drive. 8 p.m. $5. 862-7580. (Liz Belile)


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