Rifflandia’s White Buffalo an evocative mix of talent

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There are few things in music as compelling as a man with a guitar. With the right personality, ability and voice, a solitary man can evoke emotions deep enough to wrap their audiences completely in the world his songs inhabit. While The White Buffalo, born Jake Smith, has all three of those qualities, it’s his staggering voice that stands out as his most powerful weapon. On the night of Sept. 14, armed with nothing more than his acoustic guitar, The White Buffalo brought the audience at the Metro Theatre deep into the dark and disparate world of his songs.

The White Buffalo’s aching yet powerful voice rippled through the intimate venue, shaking deep inside the chests of the rapt crowd as he ran through songs from nearly all his releases. Intense, driving songs like “The Madman” and “The Pilot” moved forward with a frantic pace and never seemed out of place next to beautiful, fragile songs like “Damned” and “Wish It Was True.”

Those delicate songs are the most startling in Smith’s repertoire. With Smith’s large, towering frame, his long hair and his epic beard, the faster, more rocking songs are what one would expect based on appearances alone. But when he peels everything back and lets out the raw emotion, there’s a pain and longing in his best work that only the greatest songwriters have ever come close to capturing so honestly. It brings a tear to the eye to hear him sing his apologies out into the world in “Wish It Was True,” throwing himself with reckless abandon into an abyss of confusion and regret (“Mother, I tried to do right by you/To do what you asked me to/I did wrong, and I knew”).

These heartfelt moments next to rough-and-tumble songs about drinking and sinning keep his show moving forward while evoking many different but seemingly attached emotions. This is a testament to his insight into the human soul. Every song is written and delivered with such raw passion as to paralyze his audience.

Off stage, Smith is soft-spoken, talking to fans with a big smile and a welcoming demeanour. On stage, his eyes are ablaze as he wails and moans his tales of worry and woe, standing large as a monument to dedication and honest songwriting. His Rifflandia set was a highlight for those lucky enough to have made it into the small venue.