Sporting a bizarre and slightly ill-fitting top that’s half high-vis dreamcoat, half mid ’90s-era Scouse shell suit, Avi Buffalo’s addict-thin lead singer and main songwriter Avigdor Zahner-Isenberg doesn’t exactly bring California with him. As he flexes and lurches around Manchester’s Deaf Institute stage and lolls his head to the unusual rhythmic signatures and occasional bursts of fretworked emotion that characterise the band’s self-titled debut, the Long Beach kid cuts a striking resemblance to The La’s frontman Lee Mavers.
That’s obviously where the similarities end; or at least they do at this embryonic point for the band. A few more tours and a truckload of drugs – although there are sonic hints that all is not quite tee-total – and hey, with just half of the wayward self-destructive art of Mavers’ lot, this album might end up being Avi Buffalo’s last. But there’s something written on the creaseless faces of this band, a mixture of pinch-me gratefulness and we’d-quite-like-this-as-a-career-thanks seriousness, that suggests their well-received first album will be seen by both the band and label (Sub Pop) as nothing more than a tentative first step.
But what a first step. For a band so famously wet behind the ears – the old (wo)man of the band is a mere 21 – it’s oddly bemusing that tonight’s packed-in crowd should bear witness to songs crafted on a careful diet of Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Kinks and of course, The Shins among others. And while no one standing here is thinking “This is new”, a lot are definitely thinking, “This is pretty fucking good.” Like an American sound that doesn’t yet sound tired and clichd, Avi Buffalo’s redolent music is more neo-classical than classical, taking what it needs from the past and bothering only with what will make it sound contemporary and not necessarily hip.
It’s impressive to see that Avi Buffalo aren’t afraid to let their frontman’s songwriting do what their lack of experience can’t make up for. The band are rightfully confident enough of Zahner-Isenberg’s memorable feminine croak, witty and oddly-wise teenager diary lyrics and skilful guitar-playing to the extent that this could feel like his band and his stage.
Nervous between-song chatter – endearing as it is – suggests that, in truth, no one member of Avi Buffalo is ready to own the stage quite yet. Happily, the supportive Manchester crowd aren’t here to make things awkward and excitedly play along with the band’s garbled gestures and giggles. It says quite a bit about them that only when they stop playing does it become clear how young they are.
“We’re gonna do the McDonald’s funk!” announces giddy-drunk keyboardist Rebecca Coleman, before the band embark on a curious mid-set blues jam that feels a hell of a lot like first tour filler. OK, so maybe they do betray their age from time to time, but for the moment the Californian’s sunny blend of Shin-ny Neil Young-isms will do very nicely for British summer days present and to come.