Last Night: Ghost Buffalo at 3 Kings Tavern

Ghost Buffalo, Eyes and Ears, Brian Hartley, Sonic Vomit
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
3 Kings Tavern
Better than:
The death of a person -- that just sucks. Out of the death of a band, at least there came a great show

The night was bittersweet. And how could it not be? After six years of shows and tours and records, Ghost Buffalo has, for good reason, become an integral part of the Denver scene. The truth is now upon us, though. Ghost Buffalo is no more.

The lead-up to Ghost Buffalo's phenomenal set was eclectic, to say the least. Opener Sonic Vomit lived up to its name. A speed-metal outfit made up of guitar, drums and vocals, the band kicked things off with a screeching blare of ear-shatteringly high EQ and double kick-pedal thudding. The Pueblo-based outfit had some good riffs, and the guitarist's leads were technically impressive, but for heaven's sakes, this band needs a bassist. Or at least to turn up the bass on the guitar amp (and turn down the treble) -- I don't have the most sensitive hearing (years of rocking, dudes), but by the end of Sonic Vomit's short set, my eardrums hurt.

On tour from Memphis, Bryan Hartley played a country-tinged solo set on the acoustic guitar. It was honestly a relief from the howling noise of the first set, and though acoustic-guitar-wielding singer-songwriters get a bad rap, Hartley did it well. His guitar playing was good, his lyrics engaging, his voice pleasantly Merle Haggard-ish, and his songs catchy enough. The problem, of course, with the acoustic solo set is that there's not much textural variety to it, and Hartley didn't quite manage to overcome that obstacle. But about the first half of his set, anyway, was a pleasure to watch.

Marijuana Deals Near You

Kicking off a tour to the west coast, Eyes and Ears brought the rock back with its alternative pop. The band sounds a lot like the Pixies (the band's shouty choruses were lent a Kim Deal kind of feel by Eyes and Ears' female vocalist), except for less weird, with the same surf-rock-by-way-of-punk-rock jangliness and penchant for catchy, four-chord melodies. The band's spirits were high, and its members put on a show that was easy to like.

Ghost Buffalo's set turned out to be even more bitter and even more sweet than expected, for the same reason: It was a fantastic set. Ghost Buffalo's music can stand on its own, with its unpredictable song structures and intense-but-accessible riffs -- and the band is particularly good at giving the subdued parts of its songs a palpable tension, like a coiled spring.

But Ghost Buffalo is also great live: Vocalist Marie Litton is a charismatic, alluring performer, and lead guitarist Matt Bellinger rounds out her coquettish reserve with long-hair headbanging and guitar theatrics. The band was especially good at this show, relaxed and confident (and pretty drunk, by the end of the set), perhaps because, at this last show, there was no more pressure to promote, to succeed, to flyer the next show, to draw in more fans. It could finally really be all about the music. Ghost Buffalo had nothing left to prove.

Ironically, though, Ghost Buffalo did prove something tonight: that it's a great band, and that the scene in this fair city will be a little less awesome without it. As T.S. Eliot said, "You are the music while the music lasts." The band is gone, now, but the music goes on.

Ghost Buffalo, you will be missed.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Ghost Buffalo was the first band I ever reviewed for publication, and I've been a fan for years
Random Detail: Bryan Hartley sounds kind of like Merle Haggard and looks a little like Thom Yorke -- an odd combo
By the way: Ghost Buffalo is not ruling out the possibility of reforming the band or starting a new band with its four members: Stay tuned

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