A mere six months has passed since Avi Buffalo emerged on the indie music scene with their debut self-titled album and the band is already touching audiences far beyond the reaches of the West Coast where they hail from. Wednesday night in Chicago brought fans a set that was a little gentle and slightly frantic as well. No doubt those who enjoy the album tracks felt rewarded by the experience as well as captivated by the way the four piece’s sound evolved in a live setting.
There’s a particular vulnerability that aches right out of lead singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg vocals that strikes one as an odd pairing with such warm guitar melodies. The band has been compared to the Shins in the past, which might be most accurate for their first album, 2001’s Oh! Inverted World . Yet, Isenberg’s vocals feel strikingly different than those of James Mercer, especially in a live setting. Isenberg’s vocals feel desperately alive and take over the songs easily. At times, it feels like the words are literally choking him on their way out of his throat. In addition, there’s an increased nasal quality to the way the lyrics flow out in front of you. In some ways, there’s intimations of Neil Young with a trembling that felt more pronounced live. One might also see comparisons to newer band, Woods, and respective lead singer Brad Cohen. Although Avi Buffalo uses pedal effects, the sound is much less distorted overall than Woods, especially in terms of the vocals.
Another key difference between the album tracks and the live settings was how the songs took on a much edgier note throughout the 50-minute long set. It was even more obvious that Isenberg’s guitar playing is remarkable and what could have easily become more languid and dreamy instead changed to increasingly urgent chord progressions and crescendos. Drummer Sheridan Riley really helped drive the songs as well in terms of both pace and intensity. It might also be interesting to hear keyboards vs. a second guitarist added to the band’s live presence in the future to reinforce the melodies Isenberg plays in a different way.
Isenberg was the most active in the band on stage and appeared simultaneously focused and hyperactive. It was clear that playing these songs are important and heartfelt to him. Yet, he appeared to have a challenging time of keeping still while performing them. It might have alleviated some of his cravings for movement had he danced all over the stage but staying in one spot (stage left) seemed to make it even worse. (Though, he may have remained confined there due to his guitar being connected to various pedals and what seemed like a sampler/looping device on top of the chair beside him.) It was unclear if Isenberg plays like this all of the time or if it was due to the fact that he had drank coffee beforehand, which he explained to the audience.
Setlist wise, the four-piece stuck to songs off of their full length album. The evening began with “Time on You” and proceeded with “Coaxed”. Isenberg didn’t seem to start getting more comfortable, though, until midway through the set with “Can’t I Know” and “We Can’t Try This Again”, and “Truth Sets In”. Of course, the best moment of the set was “What’s in It For” with the close second being the ending of the very extended playing of “Remember Last Time”, in which guitars and bass alike were pressed against amps to create the loudest sound of the night.