Matt Bellinger fully embraced the rock element at Ghost Buffalo’s CD release show on Thursday. Photos by contributor Doug Beam.
It wasn’t too long ago that Ghost Buffalo hit rock bottom. After releasing its self-titled debut, three members deserted the band, leaving husband-wife songwriting duo Matt Bellinger and Marie Litton to pick up the pieces. It took a little while. The pair attempted solo acoustic songwriting and it didn’t work. They tried various rhythm-section combinations and it didn’t work. They were, for all intents and purposes, stuck in band limbo, unwilling to dissolve the band but unable to make anything happen.
At the band’s CD release party Thursday at Larimer Lounge, you wouldn’t be able to tell Litton and Bellinger scraped the bottom a while back. The band — now a four-piece with bassist Ben Williams and drummer Jed Kopp holding down the back end — raced through a set of blistering alt-rock/grunge/indie as if it were a ritual to separate itself from its past. Really, it was a lot more than just a token new beginning. The band’s new album, “The Magician” (Suburban Home) discards the alt-country twang for which Denverites used to know Ghost Buffalo, for a distinctly rock-based sound.
The transformation certainly fits it. Bellinger, who played in hometown heroes Planes Mistaken for Stars for years before defecting to play with his wife, was back to slinging powerhouse riffs around, sometimes checking Smashing Pumpkins, sometimes making nods toward Alice in Chains and sometimes hinting at his roots as a hardcore/punk shredder. Gleefully swinging his shoulder-length red hair in the head-banger fashion that would have seemed outright ridiculous if he was still playing alt-country, he was undeniably back in his element. Yanking his shirt off midway through the set only put an exclamation point, albeit a mildly sweaty one, on the change.
As much energy as Bellinger projected, the foursome’s charms stemmed primarily from Litton. The diminutive singer/guitarist — she stands only collar-bone high to her band mates — was overflowing with soul and had just enough bite to push it around. Opening the set with an eerie and ambient instrumental and creepy-samples number “Just a Thought,” the band poured into “The Magician,” a sultry slow-burner that let Litton coo the audience into a false sense of calm. After that, it was all chugging, massive riffs and flying hair. “Narcissus” piled grunge’s crackling riffs on top of a not-so-hidden pop vocal, while “My Great Disguise” sounded like the stuff several Chicago underground acts used to worm their way into major-label contracts a decade or so ago.
You never know if you’ll bounce until you hit rock bottom, and Ghost Buffalo’s re-emergence as an alt-rock combo isn’t just proof Litton and Bellinger survived their trials. A new sound and a new rhythm section proves Ghost Buffalo didn’t merely survive. It thrived.
Reverb contributor Matt Schild edits Aversion.com.
See more of contributor Doug Beam’s photography.