Buffaloed Again: Desiree Weber reviews Buffalo Tom

Buffalo Tom Feb. 1, 2008 First Avenue By Desiree Weber Photos by Daniel Corrigan

Question: After a near decade-long hiatus, these alt-rock darlings of the nineties have put out a new record and are touring once again. Answer: Buffalo Tom.

You would be forgiven if you guessed Dinosaur Jr., but in fact the correct answer is Buffalo Tom. (To be super-picky, Dinosaur Jr was not on “hiatus” – they broke up. And their break was either more than a decade if you are counting the years between original records with the same members – or less than a decade if you are counting when they broke up and got back together.) So back to Buffalo Tom.

Buffaloed Again: Desiree Weber reviews Buffalo Tom

An oldie but goodie: Buffalo Tom. More photos in the slideshow.

Their show at First Avenue was a good example of what a guitar player, a bassist and a drummer can do when their craft has been honed for more than two decades. A power trio is a sight to behold when done well. And well, a disaster when not. The three members of Buffalo Tom (Bill Janovitz on guitar, Chris Colbourn on bass and Tom Macginnis on drums) are a well-oiled machine of alt-rock glory that hearkens back to a time when a power-trio didn’t have to wear mascara or be overly ironic to make good music.

Hits from their 1992 release Let Me Come Over and their follow-up Big Red Letter Day dominated the set list, with a few from their new record Three Easy Pieces thrown in for the younger fans. Most of the crowd at First Ave was around when leg warmers were cool the first time, but that didn’t dampen Buffalo Tom’s infectious mix of pop and rock from getting the crowd moving. Bill Janovitz, who does the vocal heavy lifting more often than not, sounded at times like a seasoned Ted Leo – with a little less ADHD and little more perspective on the angst of unrequited love.

If the current indie rock scene can be described most often as “doing interesting things with music,” Buffalo Tom reminds us that there needs to be “music” there first. The 20-song set proved the versatility of power-trios in songs like the up-tempo “Tree House,” which incorporates more distortion as the song goes on, and the self-described “slow-burning, mid-tempo ballad of self-pity” of “I’m Allowed.”

While not exactly a reunion show, it’s clear that the members of Buffalo Tom were nostalgic about returning to a venue they first visited over 15 years ago. In response to a question about what they’d been up to since then, Colbourn’s suggestions of scrapbooking and post-graduate degrees may not have been entirely off the mark. But the show also brought to mind how experience and perspective can make the un-ironic alt-rock of the early 90s just as enjoyable and meaningful as any avant-garde indie rock of today. --Desiree Weber

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