Bands should never try and replicate their recorded work on stage. It rarely works. Foals were the worst offenders I’ve seen, a band who note for note can faithfully recreate each album with precision. A few songs in during a festival set a few years back I almost drifted off. Avi Buffalo on the other hand offer something different live and as a result offer a far more captivating experience.
The Californian band are here aboard Bristol’s floating venue Thekla as part of a European tour to promote their excellent second album At Best Cuckold. It’s an album full of beautiful sunny pop by frontman and songwriter Avi Zahner-Isenberg as well as very precise well worked guitar parts and even a horn section in places. Live though they strip it back, Just Zahner-Isenberg’s guitar, keyboards to fill out the sound a bit and drums and bass. Nothing fancy. This gives each song from At Best Cuckold a new, welcome take.
At times the live experience significantly improves on the recorded version. Oxygen Tent, the set closer, is the prime example. This track passed me by a little on disc. Live I thought it was a Randy Newman cover, so good is the songwriting. The guitar break out towards the end has gone from just okay on disc to simply awesome on stage.
Another highlight was Zahner-Isenberg’s solo middle section, with an excellent Fender Stratocaster and vocal only version of Summer Cum, from their self titled debut album. At Best Cuckold tracks Two Cherished Understandings and Overwhelmed with Pride then follow exquisitely just with acoustic guitar and later keyboards added in.
Of course they play What’s It in For, their first single and most recognisable track. But when this once would have been greeted with whoops here the crowd know their best work is in the here and now on their latest album not the past.
As the set progresses, which fitted expertly into an hour precisely, the band’s confidence clearly grows and the banter flows more freely. By the encore of She Is Seventeen, Zahner-Isenberg offers to be everyone’s “best friend at the merch stall, well for tonight anyway.”
Support was from Happyness, a band that mine the memory banks of aged indie kids everywhere to give a little bit of Pavement, a little bit of Sparklehorse and a little bit of Teenage Fanclub. Here with a fine album of their own to promote, Weird Little Birthday, their half an hour set feels far too short. It’s not just the quality of songs like the pop of Great Minds Think Alike, All Brains Taste the Same, it’s also their attitude that warmed the crowd.
They remind me of Mclusky, the great Welsh band who took apart the often ludicrous life of being in a band so expertly. Like them Happyness also take out all the pretension and offer you exactly what they are – a band who like playing live, within their “allotted time” to an audience who they hope will visit them at the merchandise stall later. Their humour is dry and may not appeal to all, but for this audience it went down a storm.
Words and pictures by Joe Lepper