On nights like this, The Bottom of the Hill hangs open like an empty doll house, black and littered with detritus of play dates past. Strands of Christmas lights illuminate the bar and twinkle over a small, tightly knit crowd. Restlessness in this space is contagious – it’s possible that people will stick around for half a song, chug their beers, and bolt. The band shuffles in quietly, a British trio with one drum kit, two guitars, and three beards between them. People shift their beers and stare expectantly into the void.
It’s impossible to say what arrives in the ear first. Is it the skittering, relentless drums that drive the Archie Bronson Outfit onslaught? It might be the guitars that clang and clink like hollow bottles thrown across a room. Then there’s Sam Windett’s voice – a rattling wail that pierces the percussive waves with no sign of letting up. Either way, after about thirty seconds worth of “Cherry Lips,” the crowd is about as rapt as cynical indie rocker types can muster.
The Archies churn out exploded diagrams of blues, smears of grubby chords that peek through a haze of twang and collide with Windett’s anger soaked shouts. While the night has definite Trout Mask Replica moments, it’s a mistake to draw some sort of reductive, throwback band parallel. The Archies point to the next level of deconstructed post-rock, an angular sound springing forward like wire coils out of a busted mattress.
At the behest of Mark Cleveland, a drummer that apparently doesn’t require oxygen, the band channels acts like The Ex with an ability to lurch forward song after eruptive song. It is easy to see why the head of Domino signed the band after hearing its set in his local pub: the three members of the Archie Bronson Outfit have no clever in-between-song banter, no outfits, no shtick; they simply crunch straight through relentlessly. Just ask the guy standing near the sound desk on this night, whom, at the first signs of “Dart for My Sweetheart,” a single off the band’s latest, Derdang Derdang, jumped up and started windmilling his arms around in a frenzied air-guitar tribute.
By the end of the set, the crowd is visibly with the band, nodding, applauding, buying them drinks, and, most notably, not leaving. “This is our first time in San Francisco,” Windett offers quietly. It’s a fair bet that the Archie Bronson tea party will be happening in a much bigger doll house on the next visit.