The release of Avi Buffalo’s debut album in April followed last year’s blogosphere adoration of single “What’s In It For”. The self-titled album’s summery guitar-pop drew comparisons to the quirky naivety of The Shins in some quarters. For me another reference point (and I think I am maybe totally alone on this one) was Galaxie 500. Some songs share the quiet intensity of the Boston trio’s dreamy slow-motion guitar shimmer and lean, spacious drumming. But whereas Galaxie 500 have a restrained East Coast froideur and eeriness, Avi Buffalo are filled with a West Coast sunshine glow and youthful playfulness. Press attention and the label’s bio seem to focus heavily on their tender ages (forming in high school and signing to Sub Pop when three of the band including songwriter Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg were just 18/19). Setting up on stage prior to their debut Manchester gig, the casually dressed four-piece do look like slouchy US college kids getting ready for band practise but they never appear awkward or immature.
When Avi speaks, especially sporting beard, he comes across far more mature than his age suggests. He mixes wide-eyed appreciation for the audience’s welcoming applause and casual between-song banter with a curious intensity when playing. But even this ‘lost-in-the-moment’ seriousness never sets in for long - pulling faces at his own playing or joking with the band easily brings things back to a light-hearted informality. Ultimately their age is a red herring – yes they have a dressed-down, laidback demeanour but Avi Buffalo are also savvy musicians and Avi himself an engaging frontman.
The set opened with that single ‘What’s In It For’ (with additional guitarist brought on just for this song). It’s still such an impressively strong calling-card but I wish it had come later when the band were fully into their stride. The next two songs remained a bit tentative but thereafter the band slipped into a casual groove and a solidly faithful delivery of the songs from the album. What surprised me hearing them live was the jazzy feel to their playing particularly in the spacious drum rolls and fills plus that fluid quick-fingered guitar work.
The set was sequenced so the last third became louder and more intense particularly during the lengthy final song ‘Remember Last Time’ with Avi even slapping the neck of his guitar in one impassioned moment. The first encore was the catchy tweeness of ‘Summer Cum’ but towards the end the loose swing of the drumming changed to Mo Tucker-like primal pounding with noisy guitar and keys over the top. If the band had pushed this direction a bit further the song could easily have mutated into ‘Foggy Notion’ or something darker and more clamorous. There weren’t many other surprises to those familiar with the record which they played in its entirety except ‘One Last’ (“we left the acoustic guitar at home”) but one eyebrow-raising moment early in the set was ‘McDonalds Funk’. This was an instrumental, part-improvised funk work-out culminating in massed screaming. Another surprise post-gig was reading that the teenage object of Avi’s affections, unrequited, was the keyboard player Rebecca. Acutely ironic giving the way their vocals interweave or complement each other at key moments but impressive to have managed the switch from intense crush to singing partner successfully.
Avi Buffalo appear to have negotiated several tricky transitions such as this: from high school friends to band-mates in young adulthood, from being unsigned to Sub Pop darlings, and now to an international touring band, all in a short period of time and managing to keep their heads screwed on. Despite the wave of acclaim they are riding (and with summer festival appearances still to come), there will still be plenty for Avi Buffalo to negotiate in the future. Is it too early and unseemly to ponder the potential hurdle of the difficult second album? But on tonight’s showing the band have demonstrated plentiful nous and musical chops not only to survive these hurdles but to take Avi Buffalo in an intriguing number of future directions.
The Set List:
What’s In It For
Truth Sets In
Five Little Sluts
Where’s Your Dirty Mind
Can’t I Know
Remember Last Time
“No-one knows how long it takes”
Support from Brown Brogues is thoroughly deserving of mention. Reports from The Pigeon Post about their scuzzy lo-fi garage-blues and then the songs on their MySpace page had me suitably excited and intrigued. And the live experience did not disappoint. If anything it surpassed the recordings because it was so thrilling to watch. The duo played on opposite sides of the stage – one half of the duo with battered electric guitar and then the drummer with only two drums placed either side of him with one cymbal and no kick drum. It was astonishing the variety of rhythms and jarring sounds Brown Brogues delivered from such a simple set-up. The musical template may have been identical with just the tempo changing from song to song but I could have listened to another 30 minutes and still been left wanting more. Brown Brogues are becoming the support band of choice for US alt-rockers visiting Manchester – make sure you arrive early and catch their primitive-modern garage-stomp soon.
WHAT'S IN IT FOR (free download via last.fm)
Avi Buffalo [BUY]