Buffalo Tom @ o2 Institute, 6th December 2018

I first came across Buffalo Tom in something like 1991 when a friend with exceptional knowledge of the music scene presented me with a mixtape.

Anyone out there remember those? They were the way that non-mainstream music was diseminanted amongst the hive mind of good taste. Those and John Peel.  Well, amidst Mercury Rev, Pavement and The Sid Presley Experience was a stunning little track that screamed all type of emotions to me. A song by the name “Fortune Teller” by the strangely named Buffalo Tom. Another by the name of “Sunflower Suit” lifted the spirits higher. The mixtape was heaving with bands who I would go on to love and see live numerous times but none of them did as much for me as BT. I became an avid consumer of their work and finally managed to see them in 92 at the Reading Festival.  Live, I was equally moved by those songs I had heard on vinyl.  From there on I would see them whenever I could until 1997 when as a touring entity they seemed to drop off my radar.

The musical output continued as a group and solo but they no longer seemed to coming over the pond.  When, if they did, I happened to miss them.

When they announced the recent UK run of three(!!!) dates, myself, my brother and some good mates were all over it! Was I let down?  Were those previously felt emotions still there?  Had age jaded my memories? Read on…

The only surprise for me was to find that BT were playing the downstairs room at the Institute tonight.  In my head they are still the band that would sell out venues like The Wulfrun Hall, Leeds Irish Centre, Bristol Bierkeller and other such sized venues and this should have been the return of the Kings.

Times have moved on and tonight is not quite sold out.

First on are Sunstack Jones; all facial hair and flares and a sound of jangly guitars and two part harmony.  They meander through an aural soundscape of 60s country blues-tinged Indie rock with as many nods of the head to classic bands in a modern environment as possible.

I’m hearing Allman Brothers fronted by Simon and Garfunkel, I’m getting a heavy dose of The Byrds and as my brother wanders up he mutters “it’s like The Charlatans were from California!”.  Yup, I’ll give him that. Whatever sound they’ve tried for it’s working for me. The dual vocals are just magic. Check them out.

After the changeover there is a palpable sense of excitement among the early middle-aged crowd. Will they still have it? Will they still elicit those youthful confused emotions? Will the immediately catchy songs from 2018’s Quiet and Peace album transfer to a live setting? The answer to all those questions and more is a unqualified YES!

Busting straight out into “Treehouse” from their 1993 album, Big Red Letter Day, Bill Janowitz sets down a marker which the band then never fail to hit. His strong vocals guide us through the soaring, gliding song towards the middle eight where he lets loose with a windmilling arm a la Pete Townsend. “Summer” with it’s whisper-sung verses and lyrics with it’s foreboding feel of recent good times drifting into nostalgia allow us to relax now that we know that the evening is in safe hands.

Roughly a third of the set is given over to this years new release. A stunning album of strength and depth. If you are yet to hear it then I’d urge you to pick up a copy as, whilst I may be biased, I can say that it is immediate and like most of the previous releases it is devoid of filler.

I can only imagine what potential gems have been discarded over the years as they have whittled down potential album songs to the bunch that see release. The vocal harmonies on “Roman Cars” are killer hooklike, and “All Be Gone” with the guitar lines cutting through whistful lines like “seems like my time behind is greater than my time ahead” feels like song writing genius. The fact that these two tracks bookend a couple of my favourite songs in “Larry” and the beautiful “I’m Allowed” make them all the more powerful.

It’s not purely an evening of nostalgic, moving, angsty and uplifting songs… we get some connection with Bill and Chris Colbourn too in discussions about ‘soccer’ with Wolves’ recent win over Chelsea and they seem to know their stuff.  On asking if anyone has travelled far, we get a decent Northern accent from Bill as he mimics the vociferous shouts of Leeds dotted about the crowd. Given that two of my companions had driven down from said city a few hours earlier and it wasn’t them doing the shouting, then I can only suggest that a Leeds gig would have gone down well.

Bouncy “Tangerine” from 1995’s “Sleepy Eyed” album and the classic “Taillights Fade” has everyone singing along as the set comes to a close. It’s around this time that I realise that I’m a little bit welled up.  Or as we Northerners prefer to say… I think I have an eyelash in my eye. There are just a couple of bands that can have that effect on me and Buffalo Tom are one. It always feels cliched when someone says this band or that band got me through bad times. Well, I’ve always got myself through any bad times, but Buffalo Tom albums have definitely made it easier.   It’s been a case of put on Black Flag and punch the wall or put on Buffalo Tom and come out the other end feel better about things.

If songs can elicit these strong emotions then seeing the band perform them, to see them putting their hearts into playing such songs, it only helps to re-enforce those emotions.

They leave the stage to a lot of love from the audience and although we all know that they’re coming back on I wasn’t expecting the two encores consisting of five songs. New album tracks “Freckles” and “CatVMouse” help to relax us like a cool-down stretch after exercise. “Crutch” brings us back up slightly before another classic, “Staples”, finishes the main encore.  I’m not sure they would have got out of the building without giving us one more and with all that killer filled back catalogue to work from it could be any number of songs that’d hold their own as an encore. So what did they give us?

Yep… a New Order cover. Totally unexpected from me but as far as I’m concerned it is now a Buffalo Tom song!

As they leave Bill tells us that they’ll see us again soon, “and we won’t leave it so long next time”.

They aren’t a modern band. They’re what would now be called a legacy band I guess. In these different times, the kids aren’t going to flock to see them without encouragement but the kids are missing out.  If you don’t know this band begin with the latest album then go back to the start and work your way forward. There are some beautiful songs that you are missing out on.  Do it now before they return.

Oh yes…and Bill? Bill, you and the boys have to stick to what you told us. We are missing you already!





She’s Not Your Thing


The Plank

Fortune Teller

Roman Cars


I’m Allowed

All Be Gone



Taillights Fade







Age Of Consent


Reviewer: Mark Veitch

Photographer: Phillip Veitch

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *