Australia’s John Butler Trio, which plays at CrossroadsKC on Sunday, Sept. 3, has earned a devoted following in the states over the past 15 years with its earthy approach to rock and its road-dog willingness to play anywhere, anytime, and for as long as it takes for songs to take flight and ignite. Still, Butler is not above making a concise statement in his music. Though it has been three years since the Trio’s last album, “Flesh + Blood,” the band has just released the single “Bully,” a righteously angry polemic about what Butler sees as abuses of power in his homeland and abroad.
The new single notwithstanding, the John Butler Trio has become a staple on the jam band scene thanks to some remarkable musical dexterity, on-the-fly inventiveness and the ability to stretch songs without losing the taut ideas at the core.
The John Butler Trio is an anomaly in the jam world in at least three respects. First, lead instrumentalist Butler is largely an acoustic player, employing his virtuosic chops on acoustic guitar, banjo and Dobro on most of the band’s songs. Second, unlike almost all of the biggest names in jam rock (Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic, The Allman Brothers, etc.), they’re not American. And third, they are — as their name makes plain — a trio. While the more expansive lineups of most major jam bands allow more musicians to communicate with each other in more ways, the John Butler Trio takes a minimalist approach to musical maximalism, locking in on knotty rhythms rather than floating off into the ether.
Ever since four Beatles and five Rolling Stones got together in the early 1960s, most bands have formed as quartets or quintets. But plenty have opted for less. From A-Ha and the Bee Gees to The XX, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and ZZ Top, hundreds of bands have found three to be the magic number. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of the best, the most underappreciated and the most peculiar trios of the past 60 years.