Review: Buddy at the U Street Music Hall

Buddy. (Courtesy: Buddy)
Buddy. (Courtesy: Buddy)

WASHINGTON, August 22, 2014 –As a musician, Buddy walks an interesting line—a line that might not necessarily advance his career, but one that will almost certainly leave strong memories of impressive work and solid performances.

Buddy’s recent appeared at DC’s U Street Music Hall as the opening act on a three band bill, a mix that seemed to fit both him and his band—also named Buddy— perfectly. That’s not to say he won’t ever be a headliner. But this is a professional ensemble that seems to fit in well wherever it’s positioned.

Opening bands generally get a bad rap when it comes from audiences, largely due to the fact that the quality of opening bands can vary wildly in a number of different directions.

The most common flavor is the band that’s just starting out and by the grace of God or the Fates has been asked to go on tour before they’re really ready and assent to the gig because they don’t want to blow the opportunity. But this isn’t the kind of band or singer Buddy is.

Instead this is tried and tested opening act, perfectly comfortable and aware the role played by the opening band; namely, to warm the audience up, even if that means suffering through the indignities of late arrivals and main-act fans who are initially more interested in discussions at the bar than in listening to what’s going on..

The confident and composed front man that is Buddy, along with the rest of his band arises from the fact that they’ve been in the musical field and presumably in this type of situation for quite some time.

Predictably, it took people awhile to funnel into the basement venue that is UHall. It was far from a full crowd by the time Buddy got underway and only a few more listeners arrived and shuffled about as the band’s set progressed. But Buddy didn’t miss a beat, performing professionally as anyone acutely aware of his position within his profession would, and he continued to power through.

A lot of this coincides neatly with the kind of music Buddy plays. The band is very much of the indie pop genre with Buddy (the leader) fronting it all with his acoustic guitar backed by the fully formed sound of light twee. He’s more forceful performing live, but only in his directness and attack.

Buddy (the front man) at his core is an earnest and honest songwriter and it bleeds into his live set. He was playful with the audience here, performing as a majority of his set the songs to be released this month on the band’s new album Last Call for the Quiet Life. After which, noting with tongue firmly planted in cheek, he moved along to well known material, primarily off his 2007 album Alterations and Repairs.

Oddly, the most interesting things about listening to this band’s songs in a live setting was the hint of familiarity that permeated all of them, even the newer ones. It’s not that they’re instantly recognizable to everyone. But they seem to have been within the immediate culture somehow for quite some time.

All this seeming familiarity makes sense because Buddy’s soft and comforting style is exactly the kind of music that could set the mood, say, for a quiet introspective moment in the story arc of a TV character.

It’s that atmospheric that allows him to go full acoustic for his last song, playing right into the middle of the crowd and even getting them to join in and sing the final chorus. It’s a moment that could easily feel forced.

But Buddy and his band had just spent the last half hour drawing a personal connection with each member of the gradually more conscious early audience. And it was that moment that was the culmination of the evening for Buddy, when almost unconsciously, the audience embraced the fact they were being invited in.

The moment symbolizes what Buddy is as a performer. It’s unclearly whether he’s ever going to draw a larger audience; or, on the other hand, whether he’s a much larger phenomenon than his UHall performance might have indicated.

But that’s irrelevant in the long run. Regardless of how many people Buddy has played for or will play for, he’ll always be able to draw on that intimate connection he and his band are able to make, and that memory will stick around long after the stage has gone dark as another musical evening draws to a close.

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