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John Butler Trio
Live At Red Rocks
ATO Records
www.johnbutlertrio.com


A live performance is just as important as what comes out of a recording studio, sometimes more; a good band will know how to wow their audiences on both fronts. But when a band manages to take their studio recording and elevate it above and beyond in a live setting, you know you've encountered a truly talented act.

John Butler Trio has been a household name for about 13 years now. Rolling through five studio albums and two live recordings, they've continuously figured out a way to capture new fans. But it wasn't until recently that I came across a recording of theirs that was inspirational.

On the 4th of June in the year of 2010, JBT took the stage at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheater. And on the 19th of July in the year 2011, the band released the live recording of that night's experiences. From what has been named their largest headlining concert came a 3-disc CD/DVD box set. From first listen, it was obviously that not only the band, but the music itself, felt completely at home [at Red Rocks].

The hoots and hollers could be heard as the marching band drum intro brought in "Used To Get High". Its sultry vocals seemed as though they slipped smoothly off the stage and the 1980s' electric guitar was a great audience groove starter for the night. The guitar work of John Butler himself is nearly unmatched. And when he starts off "Betterman" with a folky, banjo-esque twang, you can hear it resonate so strongly through the mountains. At one point the song breaks for a couple drums and some soft vocals, taunting and enticing the audience. The echo that stage provided worked so perfectly, you wouldn't want to hear it any other way.

One of my album favorites begins with just a subtle string dance. Fingers sashay across a hollowed instrument in a very Indian/belly dance kind of way. The sound of a didgeridoo comes out eerily from the back and eventually the sentiments of an African-dance leave way for one of the most recognizable JBT electric riffs to bust out. It's that of the song "Treat Yo Mama" and pretty soon you're knee deep in the pure insanity that comes with lyrics on speed and so many electric rock chords that they're coming out your ears. One might think that his guitar work might get lost in an outdoor venue. Rest assured, you experience every note and every ween.

'Absolute favorite JBT song of all time'is a risky thing to see at a show. You can put so much faith in your band, but so much risk as well. For me "Ocean" tops the JBT chart and when I finally reached the song on the live album, my hopes were not only met, they were surpassed. With so much raw talent rolled up into one man, it's really best just to give him a guitar and stand back. The intro of "Ocean" was just that. You can almost hear his smile and picture how content he must have been. The first 1:20 was like a window into John. No music to follow, just whatever his fingers wanted to do. It was magical. Soon enough the song itself emerged. And with a few bass beats, the music took shape. A melody turns into a lullaby and a beat into a dance. This was one of those songs that you never wanted to end. And as the second longest song on the album, coming in at 12:03, the band surely tried to do just that. Not a single word comes out, but this is on purpose, so that your mind can completely take in each strum and each pluck. Not having seen JBT live myself, I can only imagine that it's just John making the music throughout this number. And it's because of this that I'm sure each of those 2,000 sets of eyes was fixed on one place. Like I said, inspirational.

22 songs fill the two discs in the box set and while I'd love to talk about each one, I'll have to jump to the end. To finish their unforgettable night, the band decided to end with "Funky Tonight". Massive rock riffs eventually fade to a single chord progression with an Irish hint to it. Cymbals are tickled and a bass note keeps everything mellow. The tempo eventually quickens and the Irish chords morph into a melody so infamously John Butler Trio. There's no better way to end a show as big as this one, than with each audience member dancing so fast they nearly pass out.

Even if you've been lucky enough to catch the band on tour, this box set is an essential for any JBT fan.

-Rachel Fredrickson

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