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Buffalo Tom at the Varsity Theater

25 Apr

Buffalo Tom (with Story of the Sea)
April 13, 2011


One of my favorite concerts took place in Columbus, OH in 1995. Buffalo Tom and PJ Harvey were on a triple bill with Live. Buffalo Tom was already one of my favorites going into the show, and PJ Harvey blew me away. I honestly don’t remember what I thought about Live, but even now Buffalo Tom and PJ Harvey remain two of my favorites.

As it turns out, that was the last time I was to see Buffalo Tom…until now. A fifteen year gap in seeing a favorite band is sometimes a recipe for disaster – or at least one risks being underwhelmed. Add to this the fact that in the last couple weeks I’ve seen show after show that seemed to outdo the previous. Well, I needn’t have worried, Buffalo Tom lived up to my lofty expectations.

At the Varsity Theater, Buffalo Tom wasted no time in getting down to business, tearing through the first four songs without a break. “Sunflower Suit” was a great opening song choice, and was immediately followed by one of their most popular songs, “Taillights Fade”. Then two songs from the new album Skins, and finally a quick break. Guitarist and vocalist Bill Janovitz took that time to tweak some sound issues, and after a little bit of that, Janovitz said, “We have baby sitters at home. We have big beers (Summit, for the record). We’re ready to start fights.” With that they played a stand-out version of “Summer”. More sound issues (at least to Janovitz) preceded, but the band continued on with another new song, “Arise, Watch”.  Janovitz’s concerns, though not solved, were shrugged off, and the band hit what was for me the highlights of the night – “Velvet Roof” and “Mineral” – both from their 1992 album, Let Me Come Over. The killer finish to “Velvet Roof” followed by the drop to the instantly-recognizable intro to “Mineral” is easily one of my favorite concert moments of 2011.

The second half of the set included eight songs spread across four albums; Let Me Come Over, Big Red Letter Day, Sleepy Eyed and Skins. “Tangerine” was (of course) a highlight, with Janovitz even encouraging a little sing-along action. The song is such a classic, and the line “Just a little haiku, to say how much I like you” is one of the best. Two of my friends even commented on it as “one of my favorite one-liners in music”, and “Bill Janovitz is a criminally underrated songwriter”. Tough to argue with either statement.

Included in the second half were two new songs; “Guilty Girls” and “Down”. On the new album, “Guilty Girls” comes across very Free Energy-like, with its sing-songy, anthem chorus; but the song was far more Buffalo Tom-style, and I enjoyed it far more live. “Down” was immediately one of my favorites on the album, and I’m surprised at how quickly it fits in with the rest of their back catalog. The lyrics, Janovitz relentlessly repeating “Down”, are another perfect example of how easily Buffalo Tom evokes such raw emotion. The way such simple lyrics hit so hard is at the core of why I love this band so much – “Down” delivers.

Overall it was a blistering set, including seven songs from their new album, while still relying heavily on their 1992-1995 albums. The encore was more of a slow burn in comparison. These four songs spanned four albums, but it could have been 5 songs from 5 albums had they played “Sodajerk” last, as was listed on their initial written set list. It’s too bad they didn’t close with that one, as it’s one of the highlights of their still relevant 20-year career. But, as with all great things, it’s sometimes nice to be left wanting more.

I’d also like to mention local openers, Story of the Sea, who continue to impress me.

Set List:
Sunflower Suit (BT)
Taillights Fade (LMCO)
Here I Come (Skins)
She’s Not Your Thing (Skins)
Tree House (BRLD)
Summer (SE)
Arise, Watch (Skins)
Velvet Roof (LMCO)
Mineral (LMCO)
The Kids Just Sleep (Skins)
Sunday Night (SE)
Tangerine (SE)
Late At Night (BRLD)
Guilty Girls (Skins)
Down (Skins)
Larry (LMCO)
I’m Allowed (BRLD)
Don’t Forget Me (Skins)
Staples (LMCO)
Kitchen Door (SE)
You’ll Never Catch Him (3EP)
(Sodajerk, on their set list, but not played) (BRLD)

BT – Buffalo Tom, 1988
LMCO – Let Me Come Over, 1992
BRLD – Big Red Letter Day, 1993
SE – Sleepy Eyed, 1995
3EP – Three Easy Pieces, 2007
Skins – Skins, 2011

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