Buffalo Tom (photo: Patric Carver)
What is it about Massachusetts? That state cranks out some awesomely ugly-seeming bands with a gorgeous sound. Chaotic and grimy but sometimes paralyzingly beautiful, there’s no stoppage to the parade of the seductively strange, including the likes of Dinosaur Jr., the Lemonheads, the Pixies, Mission of Burma, and the Breeders. They all have this chapped-hands-and-dirty-work-boot quality that is constantly at odds with a delightfully pretentious, informed world view.
There’s something timeless to the music, too. It’s college rock that’s actually worth listening to when you’ve long passed your term-paper-deadline anxiety and moved on to the general numbing anxiety of everyday life. Baby boomers like my mom and dad grew out of their romance with songs like the Beatles’ “All My Loving.” Even for them, it became a kitschy reminder of how things used to be. We’ll always have “It’s a Shame About Ray.” The feelings that song and its ilk have conjured up within me will remain the same until I’m six feet under.
Maybe that’s because they all seem like regular people up there on stage who just happen to be producing some of the greatest rock in recorded history. There’s no J Mascis-mania, no Black Franciscans. They have fans, sure, but they’re all too cool to get all fanatical about it in such a public, joiner way. No one perhaps embodies this regular guy persona than the fellows in Buffalo Tom, a band rumored to be named in part for Buffalo Springfield, an everyman’s band if there ever was one.
Donning polo shirts and sneakers, the trio shuffled on stage last Friday Sunday at the Independent. When not making jokes about having heart attacks from too much exertion on stage, they proceeded to tear the place apart. Like a phantom wrecking ball, the mass of their sound swept through the Independent’s cavity — imprinting its impact on everything in its way.
Tom Maginnis is an absolute machine of a drummer. He’s got this John Bonham, Dave Grohl thing going on — he’s an absolutely unstoppable force. Hearing him punch through “Larry” and “Birdbrain” reset my own pulse to his rhythm. Chris Colbourn plays the bass like a guitarist — melting the rhythm section with these sweeping chords that carry the slog of a bass to another plane. Plus, Colbourn is so unusual in that he’s a bass player that cracks a smile on stage. Where’s the brooding detachment, Chris?
There’s no getting around the Bill Janovitz guitar, though. As amazing as his fellow bandmates are, Janovitz is the powerhouse of the band. His sound is so heavy yet nimble that it challenges what ears know about physics. Undulating from appearing to beat the sound into his fingertips and curling his body around his walnut SG lest it escape his control like a wild animal, Janovitz was rock and roll. He embodied it.
I cracked a joke before entering the show that I was going to try to write my review entirely of quotes from Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous. Now I find myself with a problem, because I’m searching for a better phrase than protagonist William Miller’s “the guitar sound is…incendiary” and I can’t come up with anything. We were all kindling for Janovitz’s fire that night. I guess that’s what I get for making jokes before the show. “Sunflower Suit” was smoldering. “Tangerine” stayed with me long after the show ended. “Soda Jerk.” Oh, what an explosive song.
There was very little stage talk save for the backstory behind the song name “Larry,” some slightly awkward crowdwork, and a moment when Janovitz alluded to a project he’s passionate about, Moms Demand Action. Patti, a volunteer with Moms, waved in the direction of the stage from a booth in the back. Janovitz thanked her for showing up, in a moment of complete humility. The rest of the night was just a terrific sonic onslaught.
Powering through two sets, including “Let Me Come Over” almost in its entirety, Buffalo Tom did not seemed short of heart on any account. I can’t wait until they come back this way again.