At the risk of sounding more cantankerous than my 30 years on this planet would suggest, I must admit that the sight of a laptop occupying the stage at 107.7 Alternative Buffalo’s fifth-annual Kerfuffle on Saturday was jarring. Not only did the device play a pivotal role in shaping the festival’s mid-afternoon vibe, but it was also emblematic of how dependent both the music industry and society in general have become on digital technology. The relationship has gotten so symbiotic that the Canalside faithful were forced to stand around under a stifling sun while a stagehand scrambled to find a fan sufficient enough to cool down Robert DeLong’s computer, which, if you’re at all familiar with DeLong’s performance, you know is about as significant as Hrothgar giving Beowulf a sword before going off to battle Grendel’s mother.
While the sword will inflict damage, its effectiveness isn’t the key to success, because Beowulf’s inner strength is what actually propels him in the end. With the computer as his weapon of choice, DeLong heads into battle appearing to hinge his hopes on electronics, but, like Beowulf, he doesn’t necessarily need his weapon to declare victory. When the tools break down, DeLong’s charisma and natural musicianship are more than capable of carrying the show, as evidenced by his thunderous presence behind the drum kit.
The point being that electronics may have been prominently featured throughout the day, but they weren’t used to mask the lack of musical ability. All artists on the bill had plenty of talent to go around and were able to bend said electronics to their own creative will.
I arrived on the scene just as LA-based indie band Family of the Year was delving into the 2012 hit “Hero,” which sounded every bit as indie as one would expect with its male/female folk harmonies and soft-spoken yet defiant lyrical structure. Siblings Joseph and Sebastian Keefe combined with guitarist James Buckley and keyboardist Christina Schroeter have an affable sound that translates well regardless of setting, because there’s a little something for everyone to savor.
Marian Hill, on the other hand, is riding the wave of male/female electronic pairs whose audience is in search of songs to be intimate to, which shouldn’t be taken as anything but a compliment. Production artist Jeremy Lloyd laid down a thumping R&B platform on which vocalist Samantha Gongol’s sultry cadences during “Whisky” and “Down” could flourish, a formula that proved to be irresistible once saxophonist Steve Davit joined the fray. Gongol has described the group’s sound as “saxual” in the past, an appropriate moniker given the way her voice interacts with the instrument. The electronic divide still crept in, though, because there were plenty of older concertgoers around me commenting on the fact that watching Lloyd layer his beats was akin to watching someone type on a keyboard for 45 minutes.
By the time the aforementioned DeLong took the stage, the Canalside grounds had been transformed into an all-out dance party to which people of all races and political affiliations were invited. He soldiered through the technical difficulties to deliver scorching takes on “Don’t Wait Up,” “Global Concepts,” and “My Favorite Color is Blue,” the latter of which featured a virtual contribution from fellow alternative sensation K. Flay.
Kudos to the Alternative Buffalo team for putting the EDM all together, because the seismic shift produced once Manchester Orchestra assumed control can’t be overstated.
Like Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s 1988 classic “They Live,” the fiery foursome came to Kerfuffle to chew bubble gum and kick ass, and they were all out of bubble gum. It was as if the band collectively said “This EDM thing is entertaining, but we’re going to show all you Millennials what a Marshall stack can do when cranked up to 11,” and crank it up they did. Singer/rhythm guitarist Andy Hull led a blistering attack that included versions of “Pale Black Eye,” “Simple Math,” and “I Can Barely Breathe” worthy of headline status, and, the longer they played, the more I feared for whomever was in the unenviable position of following such a brilliant set.
Luckily, Taking Back Sunday had the people on its side from the outset, as frontman Adam Lazzara greeted his adoring public with a smile and wasted little time pouring every ounce of energy he could into the band’s catalog. Because I spent my high school years listening to Rush, Zeppelin, and Sabbath, Taking Back Sunday and the hardcore/emo movement they became associated with during the early ’00s never registered with me. That said, the band was tight and displayed a sonic maturity suggesting that they’ve left the emo label in the past where it belongs.
Dynamic Brooklyn duo Matt and Kim went on next and proceeded to orchestrate a celebration the likes of which you won’t see anywhere other than at a Matt and Kim show. Matt mans the keys while Kim crashes the skins with the force of the Tasmanian Devil, and it all happens as confetti, beach balls, blow-up dolls, and dildos circulate through the crowd to rapturous applause. Their music is a beacon of limitless positivity at a time when the country descends further down into the socio-political abyss, so I can’t say enough about how riveting their performance was to behold.
By the time Awolnation tore into “Here Come the Runts,” much of the audience had already invested eight hours at the festival and were ready for the headliners to finally tear the house down. If anyone was feeling fatigued, Aaron Bruno howling the phrase “They will never find me here!” into the skyway during “Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)” was a fierce wake-up call that there was lot of music left to consume.
Guitarist Zach Irons joined the band in 2015 and his presence added a heavier dimension that blossoms whenever he’s allowed to take over, which, on this night, was quite often. “Kill Your Heroes,” “Not Your Fault,” and “Sail” proved that he’s an up-and-coming player whose style and menacing tone has solidified the group’s status as a major player on the alternative scene.
They provided an ideal ending to a perfect day of music on the waterfront yet straddled the line between guitar-driven mayhem and electronic influence enough that the debate won’t be settled anytime soon.