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In Buffalo, it was a perfect weekend for takin’ it to the porch

It’s finally nice out. You don’t want to be stuck jamming in the basement or the garage. It’s time to take the music outside.

The concept behind Buffalo Porch Fest is not the sole purview of our town. Celebrating community through music by bringing bands onto porches and front lawns is not new; cities including Ithaca and Cleveland have been doing it for a while. But Buffalo Porch Fest, which took place on Saturday in the Elmwood Village, has a flavor unique to our city. The event is at once a celebration of our musical heritage, and an acknowledgement of the survivalist streak of one of our most enduringly hip neighborhoods. The Elmwood Village was cool long before Terry Pegula started investing money in Buffalo, before new builds became commonplace, and people started moving into the city instead of scampering out of it like their tails were on fire and the suburbs were the only place with enough water to put out the blaze. So what’s happening there now is more reaffirmation than renaissance.

Saturday’s Porch Fest boasted some of the laid-beck, neighborly charm of the original Thursday at the Square series, when the event was held at Lafayette Square and featured predominantly local bands playing for people who lived and worked in the neighborhood. Focused predominantly on the Elmwood/Bidwell Parkway area, the Elmwood Village Association-presented event found more than 40 neighborhood porches welcoming bands that ranged from folk to blues to indie-rock, and offered a welcoming environment for residents and music-fans to meet, mingle and move on, or to set up camp for the day and make a party out of it.

The party atmosphere, aided and abetted by perfect weather, endured throughout the event. What was particularly striking about the event was the enthusiasm for the bands. People didn’t act as if they were aloof observers checking out the happenings from a safe distance, but rather, as if they were celebrating something that was their own, an outgrowth of a particular environment and culture that screams “Buffalo!” with at least as much vigor as one of our sports teams.

I lived in the Elmwood/Bidwell neighborhood for a decade, and have spent much of the time since I left considering it an eventuality that one day, my family would be returning there. On Saturday, I got the feeling that day is coming sooner than I expected. Porch Fest showed off a broad array of independent regional music – some of it boasting the vibe of a backyard campfire jam, some of it more formal and concertlike. It also displayed the architectural beauty of the neighborhood – some of these Buffalo houses, with their sprawling front porches, funky paint jobs and gorgeous stained-glass windows, are worth celebrating on their own.

Though it launched in October of 2013 and is still in its relative infancy, Porch Fest already feels like an event that is part of the cultural fabric of the region. Good times, good tunes and good neighbors. That’s Buffalo. One comment on a Porch Fest Facebook post I shared on Saturday evening said it all: “Should have more – once a month all summer.”


Song of the week

Tonight, we’re gonna party like its 1988.

“Shut Up and Dance,” the sugary mega-hit from Walk the Moon, has been bothering the upper reaches of the charts for months now. This week, the tune sits comfortably in the iTunes Top 10 song downloads roster, some seven months after its initial release. Why the endurance? It’s simple, really. The song’s hook is indelible. It’s the type of tune that sticks in your head, even if you’d rather it didn’t.

The tune is made up of three primary elements, and together, they conspire to make “Shut Up and Dance” the stuff of pop-hit dreams. First, there’s the chiming, digital delay-fueled guitar riff, which owes an obvious debt of gratitude to U2’s the Edge. Then there’s the disco/’80s alt-pop mélange that forms the tunes basic musical bed – this is dance music, after all, and the melody is subservient to the four-on-the-floor groove. Finally, there’s the lyrics, which are not exactly deep, but boast the sort of everyman relatability that is required of a pop hit. The story is an old one – dude is out at a dance club trying to impress the ladies, talking too much to ward off self-consciousness, and is finally told by the far more in tune with the rhythms of the body female object of his desire to can the philosophizing and start shaking it.

That’s pretty much the whole story, though there are some nice flourishes – a nice distorted bass line, the open/closed high-hat pattern that fuels the relentless forward motion of the groove, hand claps, reverb-drenched backing vocals, a hyper cheesy synth solo and a breakdown tailor-made for the “everyone wave your cellphone in the air” moment that is invariably part of every modern arena-pop bacchanal.

This is total ’80s pop throwback material, though its success is predicated on the attention granted it by listeners who probably weren’t yet born when Rick Springfield was doing the same thing with “Jessie’s Girl,” some 30 years back. So Walk the Moon is benefiting from cultural amnesia, to be sure, but does anyone really care? Probably not. It’s a catchy tune.


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