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With his balding pate and gangly frame, Eric Bachmann looks more like a washed-up Division III tight end than a populist tunesmith. But since the turn of the millennium, the former Archers of Loaf frontman has transformed himself into a Steve Earle of sorts (without the drug reputation or Nashville vendetta). Bachmann’s songs for Crooked Fingers are moody, sweeping, slow-building affairs that speak of a chronically imperfect America where “even the vultures have moved on.” His voice has matured with the change in material—it’s smokier and more passionate, verging on tender at times. And although the Fingers, with touches of strings and horns, are way more radio-friendly than the chaos-loving Archers were, the mellower setting somehow seems more authentic. While guys like Earle and Bruce Springsteen act as self-appointed mouthpieces of a broad underclass, Bachmann just seems transfixed by the drama of small, cold towns and the people stuck in them. Crooked Fingers play it straight with Azure Ray and David Dondero at 8:30 p.m. on the Black Cat’s Mainstage, 1811 14th St. NW. $10. (202) 667-7960. (Joe Warminsky)