Psychedelic riff masters King Buffalo drop by Bristol on their first European headline tour.
After almost twenty-two thousand rotations of the planet, I still get a buzz when I discover a new band. Okay, so king Buffalo have been around since 2013, but I only discovered them this year and I got as much of a buzz out of them as I did when I discovered music as a teenager.
Discovering a band that has been around for a while is a mixed blessing. You don’t get to watch them grow from the early days, but you do have a back catalogue to get stuck into and you don’t have to be frustrated by the lack of recorded output to wrap your ears around. When the band are from America though, you do have to wait to catch them live. Luckily, despite the fact that they have not played the UK since 2017, I haven’t had to wait long.
As soon as I saw the tour dates, I was scanning through the list to work out which was the best place for me to catch them. I opted for the Exchange in Bristol.
Just on the outskirts of the city centre, I have only been there a handful of times in the past, but it does have a history of putting on bands I like. I recall going to see Inner Terrestrials there on my way to Plymouth. The plan had been to go to the gig then drive down to stay with a mate who was working a late shift. Little did we know that IT would not come on till 1am, so the sun was coming up by the time we eventually go to Plymouth.
The Exchange is a not-for-profit social enterprise that is owned and operated by it’s members focused on supporting a wide range of musical projects and creative endeavours. It has two event spaces (250 capacity and 60 capacity), offering an adventurous and diverse program seven nights a week.
Not just a venue, it also has a Record Shop, Recording Studio, Gig Buddies Bristol and Offices for Local Promoters and Record Labels.
Having opened it’s doors as a Live Music / Club Venue in August 2012 they have played host to a wide array of artists including The 1975, Haim, George Ezra, Rag n Bone Man, (the) Melvins, Four Tet, IDLES, Sleaford Mods. The team behind Exchange had previously ran The Croft venue in Stokes Croft, so already had a history of putting on the best underground bands.
Tonight England V Spain in the Women’s Euros is being shown downstairs. I poke my head in to check it out but there are only two people in there.
Back upstairs I splash out on filling a few gaps in my King Buffalo CD collection – with the drummer doubling up as Merch Stall dude.
First on the bill are Bristol based Holy Reptile. We make the mistake of wandering in late to find the room rammed. They put in a good shift, an appropriately psychedelic heavy vibe that lays a good foundation for what is to come. However, as we can’t see the band from the behind the mixing desk and it is like a sauna, we head for the beer garden before the set is over.
Lesson learned, we head in a bit earlier to catch Mammoth Toe. Another Bristol band, again playing heavy psyche. This time we have a better viewpoint and last the whole set. And I’m glad we did, because they impress. ‘GorgonZilla‘ lodges itself in me brain, partly because of the name and partly cos it’s a fucking brilliant tune. “It’s on our new EP’, they announce, so I snap it up on CD (although I later discover its been out three years. Not that it matters)
I’ve been looking forward to this gig for ages, so leave nothing to chance and stay in the hall, Jed and I planting ourselves next to the stage.
King Buffalo hail from Rochester, New York. The band consists of vocalist and guitarist Sean McVay, drummer Scott Donaldson and bassist Dan Reynolds. Their music has elements of stoner, psychedelic and progressive rock, while the band themselves describes it as heavy psych. As their most important influences singer Sean McVay names Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Jimi Hendrix, Rage Against the Machine and Radiohead.
I generally try to avoid comparisons, but their own words let the cat out of the bag. Just try to imagine Black Sabbath with Dave Gilmour on guitar. Heavy as fuck, but not rushed, the heaviness comes from the riff rather than the speed, and a deeply psychedelic edge. (Lots of my boxes getting ticked here).
After breaking a string doing a last minute tune up they soon rip into ‘Silverfish’ and I’m sold already. For the next hour and a half we are transported to another place. We get ‘Grifter’, ‘Eye of the Storm’, ‘Red Star’, ‘Shadows’. ‘Loam’ and ‘Cerberus’. There is very little reference to the forthcoming album (can we hope for another tour this year to promote it?).
As the show ends, the drummer makes the effort to come to the front and hand over his drum sticks to a young lad at the front of the crowd. Another reason i love this grassroots scene.
A rough calculation in my head tells me I must have been to over two thousand gigs in my time. At least one of those, if not more, must have been better than this. But as I eventually head out I to the Bristol night, I’m floating – and I really can’t think off the top of my head of a better gig I have ever been to.
It is, of course, ridiculous to even compare them to some of the amazing ska, dub, punk, blues, soul, techno outfits etc that I have seen over the years. And it’s not a bloody competition anyway. But to be able to still get that high coming out of a gig at my age makes me very happy indeed. And hungry to find another band as good as King Buffalo. It may take a while but it will be fun trying.