Concert reviewing is not always as glamorous as it sounds. You walk into hole-in-the-wall venues on a Monday night, with one eye open and praying you won’t need a series of Tylenol pills to get you through the night. But sometimes you get lucky. You find those bands that have been shoved in between the cracks. These are the bands you somehow manage to stumble onto even though they’re nowhere near the mainstream yet, and later that night you’re thanking God that you did. This was just the case at the Saxon Shore show in Buffalo, New York.
4 Aug 2003: Broadway Joe's Buffalo, New York
There were only a handful of people roaming around the relatively small bar as Karmella’s Game, the first of two opening bands, took the stage. The five members, ranging from their late teens to early twenties, dressed in schoolgirl and boy get-ups (we’re talking plaid skirts, knee highs and V-necks, folks), came out and took the stage hostage with their undying energy. They captivated the entire crowd with their synth-rock sound, while lead singer and keyboardist Katie Ostrosky caused jaws to drop with her unbelievable Gwen Stefani-esque vocals. (And let me tell ya, this woman’s range is incredible.) Backed by music that resembled a synthesized Weezer with a hint of Supertramp, this combo just couldn’t get any better.
Leaving room for faux pas, the second band, Buffalo’s own Blizzard of ‘77, reminded the audience that this was their first show ever and to bear with them. Beginning with an electronic noise that sounded like you were being sucked into a wind tunnel, this three-member band created a sound that was like a dirtier version of Radiohead. Their songs varied from angsty rock to placid melodies, and though their lyrics sometimes were unrecognizable, their musical skill was quite solid.
After making a few requests from the sound guy, the headliner, Saxon Shore, with no introduction, began to play to the remaining crowd. Set up in triangular form, the three guys—Matt Doty (guitar), Josh Tillman (drums) and Justin Saxby (bass)—looked as though they were having a simple band practice, solely focusing on each other and their art. Using a mini-disc player for background noises, they causally morphed into their first song, “Four Months of Darkness”, which emitted a relaxed feel over the audience. Their second song, “Amber, Ember, Glow”, picked up the pace as Doty played a quick, rhapsodic back and forth melody on guitar while Tillman created a distinct snare drum sound.
Though the music sounded pulled together and flowed exceptionally well, you would have never guessed that Doty and Tillman lived on opposite sides of the country and relied on mailing 4-track demos to each other to create their music. They classify their strictly instrumental music as “ambient instrumental indie rock” and could be compared to Sigur Ros. However, I like to think these guys have more of a “breath of life” to their sound. (What can I say? I like the fact that Tillman actually hits the drums at a speed that shows a pulse).
“Replacement Driver”, which isn’t on their latest CD, Four Months of Darkness, was their fourth song that began with a few drumstick hits and then broke into a fast, edgy rock melody. They took a quick and silent break before their last song, another new one not on their album, titled “Secret Fir, Binding Light”, that brought their show full circle. Doty created a delicate guitar sound that was broken by moments of vitality creating a very realistic feel and turning an intimate show, even more intimate.
Broken into a roller coaster of musical waves that flowed one after the other, each song sounded like a discussion between two people that encompassed a series of different emotions. One minute a fragile conversation and the next a heated argument. Saxon Shore’s music undoubtedly resembles a cyclic tune to life. Just as they began so discretely, they ended that way, too. When the fifth song came to a close, I was waiting for the next to begin, but no go. Their set was short and to the point, keeping their mysterious decorum and unassuming image.
I may have gone into this show weary eyed, but came out with a newfound hope. All three bands were worth my while, each in their own way. Finding a new band that you wouldn’t mind listening to on a regular basis is liable to make anyone want to run into an open field, fall to their knees and let out a cathartic, “YESSSSSSSSSSSS!” This was a night where no Tylenol was needed. Amen.
// Notes from the Road
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