Saturday, May 8, 2010

Rogue Wave with Avi Buffalo

9:30 Club
Washington, DC
March 5th, 2010

Avi Buffalo
My first impression of tonight’s opening act was…wow, how young are these guys? The four members of Avi Buffalo, Avi Zahner-Isenberg (guitar/vocals), Rebecca Coleman (keyboards/vocals), Arin Fazio (bass) and Sheridan Riley (drums) looked more like they belonged on a school bus than a tour bus. Given the amount of hype and publicity these indie rock neophytes are currently receiving (their debut album will be released on Sub Pop in April), I’m sure that’s a sentiment this Long Beach, California band must be getting used to hearing by now.

Despite the fact that the oldest member of the band is merely 21, Avi Buffalo showed no hesitation as they warmed up the 9:30 Club crowd with a fun set of guitar driven pop songs. My only complaint with the band was Zahner-Isenberg’s vocals, which often seemed way too high pitched for this music. In fact, he managed to completely drown out co-vocalist Coleman at times. Don’t get me wrong, musically I enjoyed the brand of indie-rock that Avi Buffalo created, and I loved the energy they displayed onstage…I saw Riley snap at least one drumstick while pounding away on her kit and Zahner-Isenberg attacked his guitar as if the thing was going to bite him. However, vocals can often make or break a band for a lot of people and that just might be the case for me with Avi Buffalo. I couldn’t quite get past them tonight at the 9:30 Club, but given the amount of talent these youngsters displayed onstage, I’d be willing to give them a second chance.

Rogue Wave
Ahh…Rogue Wave. Due to the quick turnaround of seeing shows on a weekly basis, I’m often checking out bands and artists that I’m unfamiliar with, which is fun, refreshing, enlightening…you name it. But tonight, I was extremely excited because I was getting to see one of my current favorite bands…Oakland, California’s Rogue Wave. I realize that these guys have reached a certain level of popularity (after all, they are playing the 9:30 Club), but for some reason I get the impression that Rogue Wave is still flying under the radar. For example, to my knowledge, tonight’s show did not sell out, whereas indie-rock heavyweights like The Shins, Band of Horses and The National, all of whom I would consider peers of Rogue Wave, continuously sell out wherever they play. So if you’re reading this right now and you’re at all into rock music with amazing pop hooks and beautiful vocals, please do yourself a favor and check out Rogue Wave!

Okay, enough with the sales pitch…on to the show! When the band took the stage, the first thing I noticed was an oversized Litebrite type device projecting what appeared to be old sci-fi visuals…very psychedelic and very cool! I also noticed that drummer Pat Spurgeon’s kit was situated at the front, left of the stage as opposed to the rear of the stage, no doubt due to the fact that the true essence of Rogue Wave is really the duo of Pat and vocalist/guitarist Zach Rogue. The rest of the band’s lineup consists of guitarist Dominic East, bassist Cameron Jasper and new guy Steve Taylor on keyboards, who Zach playfully introduced to the crowd by singing "Steeeeeve…the newest member of the band".

This playful banter and sense of humor is what followed throughout the entire performance by Rogue Wave. Once they were onstage, Zach immediately started tuning his guitar before opening the show with "Stars and Stripes" off the band’s latest album "Permalight". It struck me as a little odd that he would need to tune his instrument prior to playing even one chord, but later after a few more "tuning breaks" had occurred between songs, Zach explained that his guitars "are all old and crappy, so if you hear any funkitude, it’s coming from the guitar, not me". The singer went on to say that he recorded almost the entire new album on the old guitar he was playing, calling the instrument "an old man".

Speaking of the new album, Rogue Wave’s set at the 9:30 Club was front loaded with six straight songs from "Permalight", including the album’s first single "Good Morning (The Future)", which is a perfect example of the dance-y vibe that has garnered the band a bit of criticism from long time fans. Later, when they launched into my personal favorite song from the new album, "We Will Make a Song Destroy", imagine my surprise when Zach dedicated it to me…or at least to my kind. The singer smirked as he explained that the song was about "sticking it to the man", who in this case refers to "faceless internet bloggers"…hahaha.

Rogue Wave eventually branched out and began to draw from their back catalog, with crowd favorites like "Chicago X12", "Lake Michigan" and "Harmonium" from their 2007 breakthrough record "Asleep at Heaven’s Gate" in addition to a few songs from 2005’s "Descended Like Vultures". One highlight came during their encore when they morphed "Cheaper Than Therapy" into a slow version of Cheap Trick’s "Surrender"…you know the one…"mama’s alright, daddy’s alright…they just seem a little weird…surrender". Zach mentioned that the song ("Cheaper Than Therapy", not "Surrender") was "written during a very dark time in my life, which is all the more reason that its fun to play now, during a good time in my life." And that quote really sums up the fun and jovial mood that encompassed the venue tonight…for both the band and the crowd.

Zach was very grateful for his audience, saying "we know Friday night is an important night, so we appreciate you spending it with us" and for the 9:30 Club saying "this is one of the best rooms in the country". Towards the end of the show, Spurgeon finally took a break from his drum set and spoke to the crowd, asking us to check out a certain foundation for organ donation, referring to his own battle with kidney disease (Pat was born with only one kidney and underwent a successful transplant in 2007). Watching Pat play drums is really a miracle, given all that he’s been through.

On that happy note, Zach Rogue signed off for the evening, but not before addressing those aforementioned detractors of the "dance-y" vibe on "Permalight". As if to drive the point home that he stands behind his new album 100%, the vocalist invited people to join him onstage to do what else…dance. As the band closed their set by playing the title track from the new album, which is by the far the most danceable track on there, they packed the stage with members of the audience to help them out. You almost got the sense that this party wasn’t ending…no Rogue Wave was just getting started.

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