Concert Sutra Doin’ it Buffalo Style
by terri sapp
Photographs by Leah Yetter
© Concert Sutra, All Rights Reserved
As I approached the Variety Playhouse on November 8, 2003, I could feel the ground underneath pounding and vibrating as the music stampeded out of the front door. Immediately when I came around the corner and saw the crowd kickin’ up dust, I knew I was dealing with a herd!
A little confused, I roamed the range to find the perfect view for the gazing onlooker such as myself. Once I was a little closer, I found that, sure enough, I WAS in the midst of the grasslands during mating season. At first, I was sure that there was to be an opening band, and thought I may have missed out. Then, I questioned, have they added some buffalo to their herd? I recognized Tara Nevins (on guitar, fiddle, vocals, accordion, and scrub board), Jeb Puryear (on guitar, vocals, and pedal steel), Jim Miller (on guitar, banjo and vocals), Kathy Zeigler (on lowery organ, keyboards, and vocals), Phil Weinrobe (filling in for Jed Greenberg on bass), and Tom Gilbert (on drums). But had never seen the guy in the black suit with yin-yangs all over the jacket and down the legs! Come to find out a friend of mine was a big fan of Jim Lauderdale. I have to say, I am not much on country music, but this guy fit into the herd just right with the way he molds his genre with so many other styles of music.
I guess my friends and I were a little late to the show, but not too late to catch the end of Jim Lauderdale’s set, where he rock-a-billied it out with all of Donna the Buffalo. The song that stood out the most to me from the first set was called “You don’t even miss me.” In the typical country song fashion, it was kind of a tragic song. “I can’t wait to see your face, but you don’t seem to miss me at all.” Tore my heart out!
The bass and guitar really kicked their set off with a bang on “These are better days.” This song really shows off this band’s talents perfectly, and is the best damn boogie song to get the crowd going. Then, a little cool-down with a nice swaying song Tara sang, “Living in Babylon.”
One of my favorite moments in the show is always when I see Tara pull out her washboard! “Positive Friction” is a hit, no doubt. “There’s a family growin’, I’ve seen it with my own two eyes!” Every time I hear this one, I just want to “become natural once again…” Who could stand still during this number? No one standing around me, for sure. The washboard is such a fabulous instrument with a sound all its own, and Tara knows how to work it like no other.
Not to make this all about Tara, but go from the washboard, to the accordion, to the fiddle, and I’m impressed! The “Tides of Time…” always a great one to hear live. But, nothing could have prepared me, or my friends, for the next in line. I don’t care what the song is, when I see a fiddle, I’m dancing. However, when you’re talking about a very rare song for the Atlanta audience, the people just went crazy over “Movin’ On.” The first couple of notes were like a low-horn threat, and all I could do is submit bellowing with mouth open and tongue curled.
Onto another audience favorite “Blue Skies” with one of the best lines ever, “everybody gets high on love.” (So true.) This number really points to the genre crossing that Donna the Buffalo is so known for. This song takes me back to the early ska days of bands like Madness, with the up beat rhythms and fun lyrics.
Donna the Buffalo is such a well-rounded ensemble, which is overly apparent in songs like the one they played next, “Big Parade.” The lyrics and vocals of “Big Parade” are so soothing, and combined with melodic guitar and untouchable harmonies, who could even try and deny that one group of people have come together with so much individual talent and made a truly unique sound.
A Donna the Buffalo show definitely requires strength for handling the roller coaster that is their set! From a slow and moving ballad to a peppy, audience participation number like, “The Mill” to a beat that touches old timey blues AND reggae in “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down.” Kathy’s kinky keyboarding really keeps this one bouncing.
“No one piece more important than the rest” pretty much sums it up with this group. When “Family Picture” comes on the herd goes nuts and sings along loud and proud! Another song where Kathy’s keyboards really stand out.
Jeb almost made me cry with his voice on the lullaby, “Deeds of a Few.” The guitar in this song is also quite beautiful in a classical sense. Don’t get too comfortable with the sleepy-time mood, though, because Jeb, Jim, Phil, and Tom will buck your lazy graze with a ten-minute extended jam session on “40 days & 40 nights!”
Jim and Tara left the show just in time for a twelve-minute jam on “Conscious Evolution.” I was surprised when Tara never returned. Jeb said she was “feeling funny,” hhhmmmmmm…As you could probably tell, I am kind of partial to Tara, so I thought that her absence might effect my enjoyment of the show, but the melodic keyboards, guitar and drum beat danced me through my separation anxiety. The “Conscious Evolution” drumbeat is infectious! It is reminiscent of the classic “I Want Candy.” Can you hear it?
Jim Lauderdale joined the band again, and added a little bit of twang to the encores. We got a new, slower ballad from the new album called “Ginger Peach.” I am sure that my favorite Jim Lauderdale moments of the night were the last two songs. Jim sang lead vocals on “Slow Down,” which has a Little Richard meets Jerry Lee Lewis sound. Jeb is just as great at backing up lead vocals than he is in the dominant vocal position. The harmonies in the vocals of this song were unbeatable, and Kathy and Phil really shined on keyboards and bass, keeping the herd moving.
This night ended on a very mellow mood, with a duet between Jeb’s vocals and Jim Lauderdale’s acoustic electric guitar. After hearing Jeb and Lauderdale on “Husbands and Wives,” I officially became a fan of Mr. Lauderdale. His guitar pickin’ was the most beautiful ending to a beautiful night. He literally made the guitar sing.
The next chance we get to see Donna the Buffalo isn’t until New Years Eve at the Coliseum in St. Petersburg, Florida. After that, they are back on the road all over Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Alabama! January 10-14, 2004, you can go on a fully charted cruiser “Jam Cruise” with Donna the Buffalo (among many other great bands, including Les Claypool!!!). If you are curious to check out Jim Lauderdale, he will be with them again in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Neighborhood Theatre on January 16 & 17, 2004.
For more information, check out http://www.donnathebuffalo.com/, and to see the first official Concert Sutra Photo Gallery by the wonderful Leah Yetter, you can find it here: http://www.concertsutra.com/dtb110803/index.htm.