I’m sure every artist defines success and “making it” differently. But as a teenager, Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg can hardly argue that he has accomplished what many musicians work their lifetime to achieve. Avi Buffalo, playing Zahner-Isenberg’s original songs, has slowly been building buzz in the Los Angeles area, finally released its debut album on Sub-Pop, an indie but about as major of an indie as they make. To celebrate, the band played a record release party at the Troubadour on Saturday night, and sold it out. Though the band has gained national attention, they are still relatively new to the idea of headlining shows, much less at a venue as prestigious as the Troubadour in West Hollywood. I can’t say for certain that is was the biggest deal of their lives, but I’m pretty sure it was the biggest deal of their lives.
To explain a little about The Troubadour, it is not a large room, but of the many venues in Los Angeles, it is one of the most revered because of the history surrounding it (the other at the top of the list probably being the Hollywood Bowl). It is located on the border of West Hollywood, L.A.’s largest homosexual community and Beverly Hills, L.A.’s recognizable status symbol for the rich. Basically, it’s one of the nicest neighborhoods for seeing a show I have ever been and and it is a short walk from L.A.s version of the Castro, which can make for a fun night out after a show. Inside you will see photos of bands that saw their career take flight after their Troubadour debut, Elton John being the most commonly associated one. But The Troubadour doesn’t seem lost in the past, as their decorations also pay homage to the music of today as well, with past posters and autographs hanging on the walls, including Spoon and The Killers.
Standing in the crowd on Saturday, watching these kids fresh out of high school (I know people are sick of hearing about the youth factor, but they seriously look really fucking young), the vibe was unlike anything I have experienced outside of a school play or graduation ceremony. The Troubadour’s usual crowd of rough-edged, good-looking scenesters was greatly outnumbered by middle-aged white people. Those who did not appear to be parents or teachers of the band(s) were mostly part of a large contingent that seemed to be classmates or friends or something. It was one of those parties where everyone seemed to know each other and you knew nobody, but overhearing the conversations in the crowd put the evening in perspective. Outside, members of the first band of the night, The Wailing Wall, discussed how unbelievable it was that Avi was about to play. A couple behind me pointed at who they thought was the step-father of keyboardist Rebecca Coleman and while on-stage Avi made no effort to conceal the fact that his community had taken over the venue (capacity 450), thanking The Wailing Wall and their singer Jesse Rifkin and commenting that “he introduced me to Wilco at summer camp.” Keep in mind that Avi’s hero is Nels Cline, so I think we should all thank Jesse.
Nels Cline is an interesting reference point, though. While the young man is not quite the guitar player that Cline is, his solo at the end of “Remember Last Time”, the night’s intended last song, shows both the chops to make loud and adventurous guitar rock with the restraint and elegance to combine a rootsy American rock sound with it. Basically, he shows at a young age he understands what Jeff Tweedy took 20 years to develop. And, though he has a way to go to catch the mastery of these artists, his abilities both technically and artistically are not simply the typical over-hyped blog rhetoric you read every day. Something special is happening and you can appreciate it or skip it, but it’s happening either way.
As for the actual performance, the sound could have cut out and he still would have left to a standing ovation. There was some chatter in Nick Freed’s review of Avi Buffalo’s self-titled debut that questioned the band’s ability to perform live. And while I believe it isn’t too fair to judge too much on an opening slot, which sometimes can be quite uncomfortable, judging Saturday night’s show would be equally problematic. The band had the crowd no matter what because this show was a piece of these people’s life, many contributing time, money, or emotional support to see this show take place. So, to hear an older man comment that “What’s In It For?” is a “really great song” and to hear the band thank the crowd before every song, I realized that, sure, this show was ostensibly for the people who actually wanted to experience this new band called Avi Buffalo, but it really wasn’t for us at all.
I can tell you that the band was tight (if not a little nervous), that “Five Little Sluts” showed that Zahner-Isenberg still has work to do on voice control (yet ended up being a set highlight because of the energy the band provided in it), that though the singer is critical of how “What’s In It For?” live can’t recreate the studio magic but in fact it still comes of as a crowd pleaser, the truth will remain that the band accomplished everything they could have wanted on Saturday night and the crowd received all that they were looking for, so success seems an accurate word to describe it. But when you have a woman, who is maybe in her 50’s, looking at you with that proud lower lip sticking out, as Rebecca Coleman did for the duration of the nine-song set and impromptu encore, well maybe that is all the success you really need.
Photography by Jesse Bloch.
Avi Buffalo setlist:
Truth Sets In
Five Little Sluts
Cant I Know?
Whats In It For Me?
Wheres Your Dirty Mind?
Remember Last Time
Im Getting Too Old For This*
*Before “Remember Last Time”, Zahner-Isenberg announced that though “the man” informed them to be prepared to play an encore, they didn’t know any more songs. But the enthusiastic crowd forced an impromptu band meeting and they played this tune, considered an old one (too….much….irony…..). The band had another meeting after this one, but couldn’t seem to agree on a number that they all knew, ending the show with a wave and abrupt exit. It was awkward, but shit, if kids aren’t awkward I don’t know what they are.