Oh, the sophomore record. For many young buzz bands, album number two comes with all sorts of conundrums and constraints. Stray too far from the style of your debut, and you risk alienating your fan base. Don’t stray far enough, and critics say you’re stuck in a rut. Release a record too soon, and you’re blamed for rushing the process. Wait too long, and there’s the possibility you’ll be starting from scratch.
It’s been well over two years since Avi Buffalo’s big Sub Pop Records debut, a release that pushed the Long Beach youngsters from locally notable to nationally touring in the span of just a few months. This weekend, the band plugged in for the first of two Sunday-night sets at Muddy Waters Café, a sort of traveling residency for their new three-piece lineup (now featuring bassist John Anderson) and new songs. To a nearly full room, the trio mixed fresh cuts with select offerings off their debut (“What’s It In For?” “Truth Sets In”), highlighting an impressive growth in sound. The newer numbers came off fuzzier, more complex, and more aggressive, while still employing frontman Avi Zahner-Isenberg’s sweetly high-pitched warble. Most importantly, though, the band proved itself well worthy of our continued attention. Drummer Sheridan Riley delivered one of the more captivatingly dexterous and naturalistic performances I’ve seen in a long while, and Zahner-Isenberg expertly maneuvered between myriad guitar pedals with the ease of a seasoned session player. It was a 45-minute snapshot that not only piqued my interest but also made me confident that Avi Buffalo’s rock ’n’ roll story is only just beginning.