Premiere: Boston rockers Buffalo Tom come back into focus on ‘Quiet and Peace’
The members of the Boston rock band Buffalo Tom have spent the last couple of years occupying two different eras.
The trio delved into the past for the 25th anniversary re-release of its breakthrough 1992 third album “Let Me Come Over” in 2017. The group also peered into the future, recording its bracing and beautiful 9th album, “Quiet and Peace,” out Friday. (Check out an exclusive premiere stream below.)
Singer-songwriter-guitarist Bill Janovitz, singer-songwriter-bassist Chris Colbourn and songwriter-drummer Tom Maginnis come to the Teragram Ballroom on Saturday for two sets, including one of the band playing “Let Me Come Over” in its entirety.
“It was an interesting head space to be in,” says Janovitz via phone from Boston. “We look at this, like anybody else does in their life, as a continuum. Twenty-five years from our third record until last year, was quite a dramatic thing. Twenty-five years. But, man, I felt like, ‘I can’t believe it’s been since 2011 since our last record.’”
The re-release and tour, says Janovitz, brought out longtime fans. “I was really touched by what that record meant to people,” he says, before adding with a laugh, “It’s a small group of people we’re talking about, relatively speaking. It wasn’t like, you know, [Nirvana’s] ‘Nevermind.’”
While “Let Me Come Over” may not have reached those lofty, generation-shifting heights, Buffalo Tom, born out of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, did enjoy a creditable wave of success in the alt-rock boom of the ’90s, a particularly fertile time for Boston and New England-bred artists like the Pixies, the Lemonheads, Juliana Hatfield, Letters to Cleo, Throwing Muses, Belly and more.
“Let Me Come Over” cemented their “120 Minutes” bona fides scoring the hit “Taillights Fade.” An appearance on the criminally short-lived teen drama “My So-Called Life” broke them through to a wider audience, propelling them around the globe — making a particularly strong mark in the U.K. and winning fans such as Jon Stewart and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
Meeting with a group of fans in London who were in their 20s when “Let Me Come Over” was first released helped hammer home its staying power.
“These dudes, they talked about where they were in their lives,” says Janovitz. “To have had an effect on their lives and to see them now in this age, it’s very touching. There’s the emotional stuff, but then there’s just the very logistical stuff, like, everybody’s kids have grown up, so they don’t need a babysitter, so they can just come out to the shows again. So we’re seeing more people at our shows than we did in 2007.”
Following 1998’s “Smitten,” the trio — all dads by that point — began to take breaks, but never stopped completely. Instead, they split their time between touring, recording and, crucially, fulfilling day jobs — Janovitz works in high-end real estate in the Boston suburbs while Colbourn has been running a booking agency for 30 years with clients like Rosanne Cash and roots powerhouse Rhiannon Giddens.
“The reason we never probably exploded is all three of us are just ridiculously pragmatic and there was no reason to break up,” says Janovitz. “It was just like, ‘All right, let’s just not call each other for a year or two.’”
The only downside of never having officially broken up, however, Janovitz points out with a laugh, is that they missed out on an obvious marketing scheme. “There’s something very lucrative about the quote unquote capital ‘R’ Reunion tour.”
Instead they live their lives, occasionally regroup, record and head out to perform for a fervent fan base. Some fans are simply enjoying reheating the embers of the heady club days of their alt-rock youth and others are following along with each album.
Super fan Mike O’Malley is in the latter category. Quite frankly, the actor-writer-producer — likely familiar to some for his comically poignant performance as Kurt’s dad on “Glee” or the early 2000s CBS sitcom “Yes, Dear” — is much more perturbed than the members of the band that Buffalo Tom has not achieved a higher level of mainstream recognition.
“I feel a little bit like Arthur Miller, ‘attention must be paid,’” O’Malley says with a laugh on the phone from New York, where he is putting the finishing touches on the book for the new Jimmy Buffett Broadway musical “Escape to Margaritaville.” “But, attention must be paid! I don’t understand why they’re not Wilco or The National. They deserve to be as well-known by a new generation of people who love music.”
O’Malley, who also worked on Showtime’s “Shameless” and recently wrapped his Starz comedy “Survivor’s Remorse,” has long been waxing rhapsodic about the band and believes that “Quiet and Peace” finds the group “at the height of their powers. They’re real deep, funny, smart guys who just write about what men and women are going through.”
Fittingly, what Janovitz, Colbourn and Maginnis are going through as middle-aged dads dovetails nicely with their fans’ experience. It even puts the men more firmly into the shoes of their younger personas, particularly Janovitz, who as a songwriter was prone to wistful regret even as a twentysomething.
“We were kind of just dull older guys in our 20s,” says Colbourn wryly. “We basically grew into older versions of the guys wearing cardigans.”
“Quiet and Peace” remains true to the group’s sound but also takes them in new directions. The collection is full of bristling guitars and the trademark push and pull between Janovitz’s powerful pipes— now flinty, now plaintive— and Colbourn’s laconic croon. Maginnis’ loose-limbed drumming remains the powerful, fidgety driver and from hushed ballads to driving anthems, conviction is never missing. Lyrical impressionism remains the order of the day and style cues come from familiar sources — the Stonesy amble of the biting “Overtime” for example.
Colbourn says that the group’s bursts of productivity are a little surreal but always welcome. “It’s weird that we’re still making records,” he says, noting that his kids are deeply embarrassed by the whole affair. “Because I have bands I’m really passionate about, sometimes it takes me by surprise when I open up Spotify or something and then it’s like, ‘There’s a Teenage Fanclub record.’”
But he’s still a music fan. “I stick with a lot of things that I grew up with,” he says. “For us, there’s some days where I feel like, ‘No, I want to let my kids and their friends make records. We need to get out of this.’ Other times, I’m like, all of us listen to our favorite bands or read authors that we’ve read our whole life.’”
Colbourn says he and Janovitz attend a lot of shows by older groups and he can tell that some of the members are fearful of going onstage. Time, after all, may not always have been kind to their looks. “That’s so sad,” he says. “I never care. Nowadays, I love it when the old timers get out there. Gosh, I saw the Zombies this year. I had the best time.”
He’s also aware that many a Buffalo Tom fan may now in fact consider them “old timers. “A lot of our fans will say that. I get that. I guess because I’m going to see Echo & the Bunnymen, I feel like that’s cool,” he says, adding with a chuckle, “I do have a few friends who are like, ‘Jesus, you guys have got to stop playing. That’s so annoying.’ I’m like ‘We don’t play that often.’”
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