August 26, 2010

That Was The Show That Was: Phantom Buffalo | Empire Dine And Dance

Phantom Buffalo record release show
Venues without a backstage area usually take some of the mystique out of the rock experience. The band has to walk through the crowd on the way to the stage, and something of the veil of performance is eliminated before a band gets a chance to start. At Empire Dine and Dance in Portland, Maine, the green room is two floors down in the basement and the stairs from there to the stage are the same ones that the audience walks up to get to the venue.

Phantom Buffalo found a way to stir up excitement, running through the crowd in newly tailored silver spacesuits before jumping on stage and diving headlong into their set Saturday night. The Maine-based quintet was celebrating the release of their third album, A Cement Postcard With Owl Colors, and leaned on that material for the bulk of their show. Phantom Buffalo has been around for ages; their debut landed on Mojo magazine’s top 50 back in 2005 when Rough Trade re-released it after they changed their name from the Ponys (some Chicago band on Matador threatened to sue them for it). A sophomore LP, Take To The Trees, was released in 2008.

Saturday's set marked the formal return to the fold of Phantom Buffalo drummer Joe Domrad. Although the "VH1 Behind The Music"-worthy drama that kept drummers filtering in and out of the band may have been amusing, this is a very welcome sight. Domrad has a preternaturally dynamic touch that somehow can vary within the beats of a drum roll, and he helps bring the music to life in consistently unexpected ways.

While Jonathan Balzano-Brookes is front and center with his chiming guitar and clean vocals -- both of which draw dotted lines to The Shins -- it’s the way the band takes those songs into other-worldly places that is what makes Phantom Buffalo special. Lead guitarist Tim Burns is a model of restraint even when his riffs break through and knock things sideways. Phillip Willey’s accordion crunching and Sean Newton’s bass playing provide not only foundational bedrocks for the Phantom Buffalo sound, but the elements provide a vehicle for the players' melodic creativity. In addition, the pair take the songs through turns that keep the dance floor moving. It’s the fact that the night ends with half of the crowd dancing around like that scene from "A Charlie Brown Christmas" that cements this evening as one of the best in ages. When an indie rock band can get feet moving, that is indeed an honorable [Ahem. -- Ed.] feat. -- Jeff Breeze

Phantom Buffalo -- "Be The Boss" -- Take To The Trees
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[buy Phantom Buffalo records from the band right here]

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