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New drink for the old drunk

Crooked Fingers

Saturday, doors at 8 p.m.
Crystal Ballroom – 1332 W. Burnside St. – all ages $12

It takes a lot of balls to walk away from a successful endeavor. At what was the height of their popularity the Archers of Loaf called it a day. Unlike many bands that attempt to milk it for one more record or another bullshit tour, they stopped.

Eric Bachman, the singer and guitarist of the missed Chapel Hill quartet, has never slowed down. The Archers rode a maelstrom of tuneful dissonance into a well respected place in the underground. Crooked Fingers, Bachman’s post-Archers group, has beautifully picked up where he left off.

The critical jab at the Archers, and often of so much of the ’90s underground, was the inability to overcome a staged irony. So much of the post-Pavement scene became intertwined in its own need to appear clever.

And despite a brilliant collection of records the time period seems to be quite dated. Self-conscious quests for artsy-ness and self-referential humor just don’t age that well. But with the Archer’s swansong White Trash Heroes, Bachman’s vision was shifting.

It is probably not worth speculating what brought an end to the Archers of Loaf. It ended. Bachman returned with Crooked Fingers. Gone is the noise and the distance. The gravelly beauty of his voice is at the forefront and his songwriting has become more direct. Rather than confusing for the sake of detachedness, Crooked Fingers engages.

Their self-titled debut record was a collection of stories set to sparse and affecting songs. Not quite hopeless, but leaving no easy answers, the record sounded like a collection of anecdotes gathered at a point of desperation. It was difficult to not listen to again and again, though.

The collection of singles and songs that Crooked Fingers has released continue in this vein. Glimmers of hope, moments of discovery, hours of pain. Bachman has remained at the center with a variety of great players surrounding him. His live performances have become as necessary as his recorded output, adding another layer of irony to his story.

The man who once sang, “The underground is overcrowded,” with the Archers has become a vital and real singer and songwriter. He may always be associated with his indie rock beginnings and quite probably will never live down the Neil Diamond comparisons, but Bachman now resides amongst heavy weights. His songs have the resonance and clarity of anything Townes Van Zant ever wrote.

The new Crooked Fingers EP argues that point well. It is a collection of covers of some of the predominant songwriters of our times. Finally on record is Bachman’s excellent rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” and his heartrending offer of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.” But the moment that makes the EP indispensable, rather than simply great, comes as soon as the opening track.

Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down” is a song that never leaves the listener. To hear it, and to actually listen to it, is to know it forever. Crooked Fingers does this masterpiece justice and then some. Bachman captures all that the song is and moves it into his own world.

Having never seen a Bachman performance that wasn’t worth the price of admission, I look forward to seeing this man once again. As he has shifted and evolved he has lost nothing of the energy that first thrust him into the limelight. Proof positive that maturity is not a bad place to be.