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.
John Butler Trio
August 9th, 2011
Crossroads Venue. Kansas City, MO
More Music Features
e-mail the chief
Like this article?
it to a friend!