April 20, 2016
Review by Steve Nawrocki
What does one do as a concert reviewer when the performance experienced is so moving that it literally feels indescribable with known vocabulary? In the case of this reviewer, procrastination comes first; hoping beyond hope that the perfect words will reveal themselves on their own in a glorious fit of inspiration. When that fails, good old “out of sight, out of mind” works wonders along with dreams that the boss has possibly just forgotten you were even supposed to write something in the first place. That one never seems to work out very well in the end either, and ultimately you realize that it would be a disservice to all involved to not even attempt to express the overwhelming waves of musical bliss you were fortunate enough to witness. This is my experience with The White Buffalo.
I will be honest that I was not incredibly familiar with The White Buffalo, which is the professional moniker and stage name of singer/songwriter Jake Smith, prior to attending their show at the Bottom Lounge in Chicago on April 20th, 2016. I first became aware of his music thanks to the television show “Sons of Anarchy”, where while watching I constantly found myself taken aback by a soulful and haunting voice surrounded by a folk/country tinged twang of an acoustic guitar. Every single time I was so intrigued by a song heard on the show that I had to learn who it was, I saw the same name staring back at me after my research: The White Buffalo. So enamored was I with the soundtrack and the contributions of White Buffalo in particular, that by the end of the show’s run I was more interested in hearing the music every week than what was actually happening on the show itself.
Unfortunately, regardless of my enthusiasm for the songs I had been exposed to, I had not heard much else before finding myself at the Bottom Lounge for the White Buffalo’s local stop of the Modern Times Tour. This lack of familiarity had absolutely no effect on the impact of seeing Jake Smith take the stage with his backing band. Pulling heavily from their newest album “Love and the Death of Damnation,” Jake and company romped and rolled through songs seeped in universal themes of life, love, loss, regret, and redemption. Drummer Matt Lynott provided an unbridled and energetic urgency as he spastically flailed behind the kit, while also taking a couple opportunities to floor both the audience and his own bandmates with his skill soloing on the cymbals and skins. The procession was held together by the infectious grooves of Christopher Hoffee on the bass as he bopped across the stage with almost reckless gusto. The amount of passion and chemistry that these three individuals have playing on stage with each other is readily apparent, and the sheer joy they were feeling creating music together was visible on their faces, which translates to the bystanders watching this magic in front of them.
Describing the literal aspects of what happens on a stage is one thing. It is another thing entirely to be able to accurately describe how what you witnessed affected you personally. I still am not even sure if I have the words. I could be cliché and say that the experience left me speechless and leave it at that, but that somehow feels cheap and easy. I will say that when Jake Smith came out for an encore with just himself and an acoustic guitar and sang of endlessly enduring through all trials in the song The Highwayman, I was filled with an intense inspiration as if that deep prophetic voice was speaking directly to my soul lending me guidance and support. An artist’s ability to use their unique voice and ability of song to tap into that timeless connection between music and listener is a beautiful thing, and after this performance The White Buffalo has successfully accomplished this feat with myself as the listener in a profound way.