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If concert-going becomes a huge part of your life you may start to take the experience itself for granted, saying, "oh, it's just another show in another venue". To break out of this funk one needs to be part of an evening that not only moves each member of the audience, but also makes them fans for life. A show from The John Butler Trio (or JBT) does just that; it moves the listener to the point of sheer fandom.

Recently, the Trio came through Kansas City and it was easily one of the best shows I've experienced in a long time. Rolling around the country in support of their recent release, Live At Red Rocks, the band was so full of energy it was hard to not have fun. The set went through selections from Sunrise Over Sea, Three, and, of course, Grand National. Slow grooving "Used To Get High" showed up early in the evening. While the tempo was slow, the lyrics were so fast they could rival most modern rappers. That, coupled with an excellent blues-y guitar, made this one of those songs that instigates an audience to sway.

One of the life lessons that I learned from JBT that night was that playing banjo makes you cool. Well, the banjo work on the song "Pickapart" took JBT from cool to freakin' awesome. From the intro solo we were met with a succession of notes strapped with attitude and precision. Eventually, the song calmed down a touch and that audience sway came back. But this is John and he doesn't let you forget why you're there. So with each chorus came another excuse to rock out with arms flailing and head bopping.

The BEST part of seeing this band live is the blank slate it gives John to do his thing. It's his chance to do (what most people would call) some jamming. One of these chances came as the intro to "Treat Yo Mama". And with the accompaniment of a didgeridoo on stage, he laid his guitar flat on his lap to let his pure creative juices flow. The finger slide took the guitar twang from straight up blues to a flow between octaves so hypnotizing it might have felt more at home charming a few snakes. After a couple minutes or so came one of the most recognizable set of guitar notes JBT has. By the time the attention turned to a rock steady electric guitar and rhythmic bass, the audience was already well invested. The song that followed this jam session was the main reason I attended this show. I have a love for music of the acoustic guitar nature. But with a song like "Ocean" it goes so much farther than that. It's an acoustic guitar sitting in the hands of one of the most talented guitarists I've seen. The song normally lasts about 6 minutes or so. But this is six minutes of just guitar, no lyrics, no bass and no drums. For the live setting however, John uses that blank slate again to sculpt a new version of this song with every performance. And so, as introduction for the song, we were treated to a solo light and a solo man, who used 10 fingers to conduct a dance so beautiful it was moving. Naturally, the solo led into the actual song, but the beauty just stayed. At one point I caught myself so mesmerized in just exactly how he was doing what he was doing that I had forgotten where I was. Never before had I seen so many elements to a song be created on the same instrument at the same time. It was literally as though the guitar was his canvas and he was creating a piece of art; art that by the time the 10 minutes were over, had caused a tear to fall down my face.

Closing the main set was the massive hit "Funky Tonight". Led in by an AC/DC kind of angry rock jam, this was a definite highlight of the evening. The awesome thing about the random intro is it kept the audience hanging on a little longer, as well as kept them guessing. It wasn't until a few hidden notes started to pop up that everyone started to realize where the music was going. This time the tempo was just as fast as the lyrics. This is one of those cornucopia numbers. It was made up of folk beats perfect for a little knee-slapping, some 1980s rock guitar that favors the top octaves and even a bit of harmonies which made audience participation an obvious addition. The band rolled through a few solo spotlights to let bassist Gavin and drummer Jason show just exactly what they could do as well. When the entire band joined back in, chaos had taken over the crowd. Smiles flashed over every face and with arms flailing, everyone got their dance on. It was as though that was the last time anyone was going to dance, ever.

The entire evening actually ended with a couple more songs, "Losing You" and "Close To You", but with the feeling left ringing in my ears from "Funky Tonight" I'm choosing to end the story with that selection.

This was a show that deserves the title of "Experience". If not for any other reason than to have had the opportunity to see the amazing talented musician known as John Butler.

-Rachel Fredrickson

John Butler Trio
August 9th, 2011
Crossroads Venue. Kansas City, MO

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