It would be all too easy for Boston to take Buffalo Tom for granted. The ‘90s alt-rock wave that brought them tantalizingly close to stardom may have crashed long ago, but the local-hero power trio’s name continues to appear on club marquees and festival lineups near you with a comforting regularity. Still, Saturday night’s sold-out Paradise show felt like a special occasion, with both band and audience grateful that they have never stopped showing up for each other.
Singer/guitarist Bill Janovitz maintained a convivial, college-reunion spirit, dedicating songs to fans celebrating birthdays or fighting cancer and shouting out familiar faces in the crowd (including pioneering WBCN DJ Maxanne Sartori). The hometown crowd’s support also emboldened Janovitz to be brutally honest, admitting that a planned opening acoustic set was scrapped after a subpar rehearsal. Following a song from Buffalo Tom’s forthcoming album “Jump Rope,” Janovitz quipped that they’d keep writing variations on the same song “until we get a Top 10 hit.”
There was a kernel of truth to his joke. The new numbers the group previewed stayed firmly within their previously established wheelhouse, dressing a solid foundation of earnest, melodic rock in the jangle and fuzz of their Gen-X indie peers. It’s not the flashiest sound, but it’s one Buffalo Tom has mastered after almost four decades of playing together, and their performance Saturday night felt professional without sacrificing enthusiasm. Tom Maginnis’s vigorous drumming kept the energy from flagging even when the tunes skewed melancholy, while Janovitz windmilled, hollered, and generally rocked out with admirable zeal. Bassist Chris Colbourn mostly served as the quiet anchor, but his strong yet sweet lead vocal turns on “Rachael” and “Late at Night” provided a welcome change of pace from Janovitz’s gruffer exhortations.
Perhaps as compensation for the canceled acoustic set, Buffalo Tom played more than two dozen songs, including a seven-song encore. The selections mostly came from the trilogy of ‘90s albums generally regarded as the band’s peak: “Let Me Come Over,” “Big Red Letter Day,” and “Sleepy Eyed.” Signature anthems like the joyous “Tangerine” and the anguished “Taillights Fade” have lost none of their power, but the less-played deep cuts also held their own, particularly the delicately gorgeous closer “Frozen Lake.” Rounding things out were a smattering of songs from the band’s raw, early records and a few choice tracks from their calmer, age-appropriate 21st-century albums. Sadly, a teased version of fellow Boston rock royalty the Modern Lovers’ “I’m Straight” with Maginnis on the mic never came to pass.
Buffalo Tom may not have conquered the world, but packing the Paradise with fans who still have a place for you in their heart decades later, then giving them a show worthy of their devotion, is no small feat. Judging by Janovitz’s sincere expressions of gratitude to those fans, the magnitude of this achievement was not lost on him.
At the Paradise Rock Club, Saturday