By that time, Eric Bachmann and his gang of three were four years into the Archers' trip, establishing themselves as one of a handful of critical darlings and indie icons to emerge from the early '90s Chapel Hill club scene. Now, almost a decade later, Bachmann is still among the best Christgau's Amerindie has to offer. But, these days, Bachmann--who released Red Devil Dawn, his third full-length album under the moniker Crooked Fingers, in January--isn't depending on atonal distortion or rock bombast to drive his best work. "When you get older, you're always cringing about something you did in the past, and you don't want to do it again," he says from a tour van en route to a stop somewhere in Ohio. "When I look back at the Archers' stuff these days, I find myself cringing a lot more than at my own stuff. I shouldn't do that, but that's just how I am." Indeed, there is little at all to cringe about with Bachmann's work as Crooked Fingers, a band name he attributes to the memory of the gnarled hands of his late grandfather, a truck-driver. Bachman's signature growl is still in perfect form, but it coddles these songs, mandating comparisons with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits in not only timbre, but also content. He's not as dapper as Waits, though, and he doesn't pander to any rock n' roll cheap tricks like The Boss. Still, Bachmann employs a daunting, almost morose imagery, chock full of black symbolism and mocking harbingers. But deep down, Bachmann--like Waits, Springsteen, and Lennon before him--is a soul locked in the quest for a morsel of validation in a world where the plotlines seem broken and the moral code seems flipped. He'll back the stunning duo of Azure Ray (he co-produced their latest, Hold on Love), and they'll back him in turn. 9:30 p.m. $8. Call 967-9053 for more.