The Buffalo music scene, a protean conception during the best of times, certainly took on an even more polymorphous state during 2012. Everything felt like it was up in the air, the wheel captured in midspin, and the future as unknowable as the present was slippery and tough to define. Was the scene about to explode, or putter out completely? It was sometimes hard to tell.
None of this was helped by the announcement near the end of the year that Mohawk Place, the fabled downtown independent music club, would be closing its doors in the early days of 2013. Losing one of its hubs, a cornerstone of its essence, is a major blow to the music scene. Mohawk will surely be missed on an emotional level, for several generations of club-savvy music fans and musicians. But it will also be missed on a more practical level. Who or what will step in to fill the ’Hawk’s role as a small club capable of attracting up-and-coming bands and seasoned cult artists who most likely couldn’t fill the larger Tralf Music Hall or Town Ballroom? What club will be the new home of indie-rock in Buffalo? 2013 will tell.
Adding to the state of flux has been the completion of the move of the Buffalo Place Thursday free concert series from Lafayette Square to the Erie Canal Harbor Central Wharf. The move has been healthy for the downtown area surrounding it, certainly, and the gorgeous space is able to accommodate the large crowds that assemble for the weekly series and the several Buffalo Place Rocks the Harbor weekend shows scattered throughout the summer. I see the move to the harbor as positive and a harbinger of good things to come – perhaps among them the construction of a permanent outdoor amphitheater on the site. Last summer also marked the maiden voyage of the Outer Harbor concerts, with acts like Girl Talk, on Fuhrmann Boulevard, at the former site of the Pier. That said, the clubs surrounding Lafayette Square that routinely enjoyed runoff business during the former Thursday at the Square series – and Mohawk Place was prominent among this group – certainly suffered from the move.
Musically speaking 2012 was a banner year in Buffalo. A healthy scene grew and flourished in Allentown, particularly around the hub connecting Nietzsche’s, Duke’s Bohemian Grove Bar, Allen Street Hardware and the Bend. Here, a fascinating commingling of jam band music, funk, jazz, hip-hop, neo soul and DJ-based sounds birthed a bit of a live music renaissance. On any given weekend, one could casually saunter between the four clubs forming this Allen Street nexus and hear brilliant original bands, top-flight improvisation, a mind-up DJ, an open jam session or a touring legend. On these nights, it was easy to believe that our scene was abundantly healthy, and that Buffalo is home to some of the finest musicians in the country.
However, in terms of the “big shows” – the major arena star-turns and outdoor “shed gigs” – 2012 was a bit of a disappointment. Our region remains a secondary market for big tours. If we were hoping for a Radiohead date, for example, we hoped in vain. Toronto remained the go-to spot for some of the hippest shows on the 2012 touring circuit. We did get some big names at First Niagara Center – Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, who never skip Buffalo; Rush, who rarely do; and Roger Waters, who was bringing his “The Wall” tour back to us for its second sellout performance – were highlights for rock fans.
Country music lovers might see 2012 differently – if rock, alternative music and indie stuff was a precious commodity, country music was everywhere, from Darien Lake to downtown, with big names like Eric Church, Toby Keith, Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean entertaining full houses throughout the year.
All told, however, 2012 should be remembered as a year that was far better in the live music clubs than it was on the big concert stages. Kudos to the Buffalo musicians who helped to make it so.