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Grant Lee Buffalo masterfully shows skill and humor

Grant Lee Buffalo

Concert at Mama Kin.

36 Lansdowne Street, Boston.

Friday, May 12.

By Rahul A. Shendure

Over the past couple of years, Grant Lee Buffalo have had the opportunity to open for Paul Westerberg, Pearl Jam, and R.E.M while headlining their own tours in between. They rolled into town this past weekend, however, to open for the Cranberries at the Orpheum Saturday night. Apart from the fact that I'm not a big Cranberries fan and the acoustics at the Orpheum leave a bit to be desired, tickets for the show have been sold out since the fall.

So when I heard that the Los Angeles-based band was playing an invitation-only show at Mama Kin on Friday, I swallowed my pride, called up WBCN (who broadcast the show live) and successfully begged to be put on the guest list. But if the fact that they were touring with the Cranberries wasn't a big enough surprise, who should come out to introduce the band but Judy Tenuta. It was a very strange beginning to what would be an incredible performance.

The group opened their set with the scathing guitar of "Sing Along," off the band's current album, Mighty Joe Moon. The follow-up to their first album, Fuzzy, Moon is chock-full of songs perfect for the live experience. Grant Lee Phillips's guitar and voice emanated raw power and emotion right from the opening bars, as did the intense playing of Paul Kimble on bass, organs, and background vocals, and Joey Peters on drums and percussion. After Phillips ditched his black Les Paul for his trademark double-pickup 12-string acoustic in overdrive, the band plowed into the album's title song and "Drag."

One of the remarkable aspects of hearing Grant Lee Buffalo live is the apparent existence of multiple guitars, acoustic and electric, on the stage at once. The richness of the instrumentation on their recordings was intensified tenfold even as they stripped down to playing just the bare essentials: guitar, bass or organ, and drums. Ripping into solos that made you swear he was playing an electric, Philips masterfully demonstrated his untraditional approach to playing acoustic guitar. Whether he was playing organ or bass, Kimble gave the music a full and strong foundation. Locking into a tight groove with Kimble on bass, Joey Peters more than adequately powered the band from the back.

Although the stage banter was kept to a relative minimum, it was clear that the band was having a good time. Thanking all the "Bo-Stone Age men and women" for showing up, Philips, with his black baseball cap drawn down low over his eyes, hinted at one point that the band would do a song by the Cars. He quickly backed off with "I don't really know that one too well, so I got to stick to one of ours that I really don't know a little bit better" and led the band into a moving rendition of Fuzzy's "The Hook" after which he jokingly introduced Kimble, as the guy playing "synthesizer." "Some people call it an organ," Kimble sternly responded.

The band moved the second half of the show with the first release from MJM, "Mockingbirds," and "Stars 'n' Stripes." Unfortunately, only a few people in the crowd (made up of an odd mix of college students, townies, and middle-aged folk) seemed to know any of the songs besides the singles from the current release. Considering that WBCN was giving away tickets to people who correctly answered Eddie Vedder trivia questions, I didn't expect anything else from them. It was obvious, however, that they were more than impressed by the performance they were witnessing. The current single "Honey Don't Think" brought forth the biggest response from the crowd, and the energy that resulted was sustained for the rest the rest of the show.

The intense stage presence of Phillips and Kimble, who thrashed out bass chords like there was no tomorrow, climaxed with "Jupiter and Teardrop" and "Lone Star Song," a powerful commentary on the Waco/David Koresh incident and other Texas concerns. Not heeding my calls for their incredible version of "Burning Love," the band finished up the 45 minute set with "Fuzzy," leaving the stage to the hollering of the gathered horde of fans. Returning for a quick encore that included "It's the Life" and the live favorite "For the Turnstiles," GLB conveniently ended their performance within the one hour time limit that it seemed WBCN had imposed.

The only real complaint I had about the show was this short length, which I presume resulted from the constraints involved with being broadcast live. It would have been great, however, to hear the band come back after the radio show had ended to play a few more songs.

If you haven't heard Mighty Joe Moon or Fuzzy, borrow a copy and take a listen or take a chance and buy one or the other. I doubt that you will be disappointed. In an "alternative" music world that is filled with two or three sappy clones for each original band, Grant Lee Buffalo's music is refreshingly unique and powerful. If you get a chance to see them live, snag yourself a ticket at any cost - but not until Ticketmaster has sold me mine.