By Jhoni Jackson
The kids I see roaming around downtown Decatur after the nearby high school’s end-of-day bell rings look hipper than most 20-somethings I know. In a world where music blogs are updated more often than most news outlets and social media makes being in-the-know easier than not, I think today’s youth have a significant one-up on past generations in terms of being “cool.”
So an all-ages show featuring a notably young (their average age is somewhere around 19 years old), fresh band with plenty of Web hype (Avi Buffalo) and an act so mainstream pop-rock inclined that only college radio play keeps them in the indie category (Rogue Wave) would draw a pretty youthful crowd, right? Wrong. Monday’s show at the Loft pulled far more over-21-wristband-wielding attendees than it did younger fans and looming parents, much to my surprise.
Just a week into their first formal tour, Sub-Pop’s Avi Buffalo played most of their upcoming self-titled full-length debut, including super catchy tracks like “What’s in It For?” and “Summer Cum.” Lead singer Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg sang his psych-pop folk with a genuine earnestness, apparent in his tightly closed eyes and serious demeanor. Keyboardist Rebecca Coleman was similarly stone-faced, and her back-up vocals over Zahner-Isenberg’s fused the two to form a perfect blend of high-octave harsh meets sweet.
The four-piece is still finding their footing as performers, but their inexperience actually worked to their advantage. Bands worn down by the grind of constant touring can sometimes appear mechanical, even contrived and bored. But as newcomers, Avi Buffalo’s authenticity was palpable, particularly for the mid-paced “Where’s Your Dirty Mind?” that has Zahner-Isenberg and Coleman singing simultaneously, “Too much time to die/And I don’t want to die.”
Zahner-Isenberg extended most of their songs with spacey guitar explorations more intense than those heard on their recordings. Any fans who have viewed the distorted, fuzzed-out electronic-based jam sessions the band has been posting on their Facebook page could have expected this, but seen live it was even more clear that Avi Buffalo’s next release will sound drastically different. Let’s hope the four-piece doesn’t get lost in an unlistenable psychedelic haze, though – their melodic upcoming release may be easy on the ears, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an artistic accomplishment. Though shapeless, spaced-out songs can be postured as distinctive, the band’s unique appeal – which truly deserves the critical praise it’s garnered so far — stems from the combination of coming-of-age lyrics, subtle psych nods and elevated vocals.
Rogue Wave hit the stage in a blatantly cheery mood, looking more like a bunch of excited fraternity dudes than indie rockers. Along with the rest of the band, wide-eyed front-man Zach Rogue had a huge, teeth-bearing grin plastered on his face the instant he stepped onstage. As cheesy as it looked, the glee didn’t appear forced. This could have been predicted, really – the band’s on Brushfire Records, which found its beginnings in surf culture and harbors ever-positive artists like Jack Johnson (who had a significant hand in the label’s formation).
Rogue Wave’s newest release, Permalight, has taken the group from guitar-driven, sometimes even acoustic, pop-rock to a full-on foray into the synth-pop realm. The LP boasts happy, light tracks in typical Rogue Wave fashion, but with decidedly danceable intentions.
Though the group’s smiles didn’t fade, my interest certainly did. After watching Avi Buffalo’s sincere set, it was hard to find Rogue Wave’s formulaic pop engaging. My attention span dried up early – sometime around Georgia’s curfew for minors under 16 years old.