November 26, 2011

Rock Over Boston: Buffalo Tom 25th Anniversary | Night 1

[Buffalo Tom and guests at the Brighton Music Hall, Allston, MA 11/25/2011. Photos by Michael Piantigini.]


I can't claim to have been there quite at the beginning, but I'm in for about 20 of Buffalo Tom's 25 years. At that time, there was no streaming advance blog single and to get ahead of the curve on "alternative" rock, so it really helped if you worked on a college radio station. My first Buffalo Tom memory is eagerly huddling in WXPL's production studio with several cohorts to listen to the just-arrived "Velvet Roof" advance single. We listened to it several times in a row, and Let Me Come Over remains one of my all-time favorite albums.

How perfect, then, that they kicked off their weekend-long celebration of their 25th anniversary with a performance of that song every bit as inspired as it was on that single. Then they barely took a breath for another five songs in what went on to be two hours of the most powerful and energetic show of theirs - and maybe of anyone's - that we've seen in ages.

There was a cavalcade of guest stars, but the clear highlight was the producer of their first two albums, Rolling Stone top guitarist lister, and Dinosaur Jr frontman J. Mascis, who joined them to reprise his leads on the first album's "Impossible" for the first time since that recording session (or thereabouts). He stuck around for "Sunflower Suit" and "Birdbrain" and, with that, the show was elevated to a noisy dual guitar bliss blitz. It's almost automatic that they sounded bigger than ever. And pity the poor guy standing next to me roughly in front of Mascis' stack (he only had one of his usual three) who didn't have earplugs and stuck his fingers in his ears for the entirety of those songs).

How do you carry on from there? By turning around and bringing out Belly/Throwing Muse/Breeder/Rhode Islander Tanya Donelly to add gentle harmonies to Let Me Come Over's "Frozen Lake" and her parts of Skins' "Don't Forget Me," along with Sleepy Eyed's "It's You." Ted Leo joined in on "Reason Why," returning the favor of when Janovitz opened for his show and provided harmonies on his cover of the same back in the spring, and scene colleagues Hilken Mancini and Chris Toppin of the late, great Fuzzy added their harmonies to a few more as the night went on.

Though TV's Mike O'Malley doesn't sing in his role on Glee (or so I'm told), he turned a fun and worthy lead on a cover of The Who's "The Seeker" (along with Figg and Gentleman Mike Gent strumming away on acoustic guitar). J. Mascis returned to close out the night guitar dueling with Janovitz on "Cortez The Killer," the guitar solo(s) he was pretty much born to play.

The packed house lingered afterwards, probably stunned by the sonic weapon that is Mascis' wailing (which I hope no one decides to weaponize).

Openers Eugene Mirman and Ted Leo had to fight a non-enthusiastic, chatterbox crowd. Maybe they were all carb-drunk from the holiday? Both are pros and have been there before. Putting comedians in front of rock club crowds is almost cruel, but Mirman was hilarious and added his studied (not exactly) theremin skills to Leo's finale. Leo said he was struggling with a road-weary voice (treating it with a terrifying-sounding Jameson-hot sauce concoction), but you wouldn't have known it when he started singing. His cover of Uncle Tupelo classic "Whiskey Bottle" was as great as it was unexpected.

What else can I not expect? I guess we'll find out tonight!

Here's the full set list:

Buffalo Tom at Brighton Music Hall 11/25/2011:
Velvet Roof
Kitchen Door
I'm Allowed
Three Easy Pieces
Impossible - with J Mascis
Sunflower suit - with J Mascis
Birdbrain - with J Mascis
Frozen Lake - with Tanya Donelly
It's You - with Tanya Donelly
Don't Forget Me - with Tanya Donelly
Reason Why - with Ted Leo
Late at Night
Your Stripes - with Chris Toppin
Darl - with Hilken Mancini
Treehouse with Tanya Donelly, Chris Toppin, and Hilken Mancini
Taillights Fade
Arise, Watch - with Mike Gent
The Seeker - with Mike O'Malley and Mike Gent
Cortez the Killer - with J Mascis

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-Michael Piantigini

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