The basic elements of a John Butler Trio show are still just as galvanizing and even hypnotic as when the Â Australian rocker began touring in the United States a decade ago. Wednesday night a crowd of about 1700 fans at The Orpheum Theater in Boston braved the plummeting temperatures and the usual Thanksgiving Eve traffic [...]
The basic elements of a John Butler Trio show are still just as galvanizing and even hypnotic as when the Australian rocker began touring in the United States a decade ago. Wednesday night a crowd of about 1700 fans at The Orpheum Theater in Boston braved the plummeting temperatures and the usual Thanksgiving Eve traffic [...]
The basic elements of a John Butler Trio show are still just as galvanizing and even hypnotic as when the Australian rocker began touring in the United States a decade ago. Wednesday night a crowd of about 1700 fans at The Orpheum Theater in Boston braved the plummeting temperatures and the usual Thanksgiving Eve traffic and were rewarded with two hours and ten minutes of the special kind of musical steam-heat only Butler and company can provide.
This tour is officially called the John Butler Trio+, with the usual threesome of Butler, bassist Bryan Luiters, and drummer Grant Gerathy, augmented with percussionist/vocalist Lozz Benson and keyboardist/vocalist Ben Corbett. Butler's latest album, "Home," was just released at the end of September, and on this tour the band has typically been performing eight or nine of the new tunes, and Boston was no exception. For an act that hadn't released a new album for four years, there was an impressive number of fans last night who displayed total familiarity with the new music, leading to numerous singalong choruses.
As Butler has noted himself, his music is an odd hybrid, fusing Celtic style guitar and banjo playing with the kind of indigenous, even aboriginal rhythms of Australia, and also mixing in some hip-hop cadences in the vocals. Wednesday night that meant percussion and plenty of it, with several songs boasting three drummers, a couple four, and one with all five musicians pounding out the beat. But melded with Butler's own mind-boggling skills on the stringed instruments, there's a lot of polyrhythms going on, visceral rhythm lines that work in contrast, or in tandem, with each other and the effect can be quite infectious, even intoxicating.
"Wade In the Water," with Gerathy, Benson and Corbett all crafting sizzling percussion, opened the show, as Bjutler sang about metaphorically taking the plunge with another person. That new tune was an apt intro for "Tahitian Blue," a finely textured ballad where he's declaring the depth of his love, over wonderfully intricate 12-string guitar lines. An older favorite really got the rhythmic quotient rocking the old theater, as "Better Than" and its surging momentum had every fan seemingly dancing in place (yes, even in those cramped Orpheum seats).
Many of Butler's best songs work like mini-operas, beginning as subtle ballads and almost imperceptibly growing into fiercely rocking crescendos. The new single "Just Call" was the perfect embodiment of that, another personal love song, delivered on that 12-string guitar and developing from a soft acoustic, folk-song type of number into a soaring rock singalong. And then the irresistible, onrushing momentum of "Running Away" was almost too intense to savor the delicate melodic accents Butler was dropping in.
The midtempo soulfulness of the new "Faith" was more focused on the lyrical content, with Butler's words depicting his doubts and how he tries to find peace of mind. Butler donned electric guitar for the scorching older tune, "Blame It On Me," showing his guitar skills could easily translate to more conventional arena rock if he so desired. But it was back to the 12-string, with slide, for a dazzling ride through the older "Pickapart," with its beguiling push-pull rhythms, as Butler's staccato vocals kind of evoked hip-hop. The other two-thirds of the trio got solo spotlights in that tune, and it was obvious both Luiters and Gerathy are masterful on their instruments and crucial parts of the overall sound.
Everyone else left the stage for Butler's solo take on "Ocean," a delectably finger-picked 12-string instrumental that was all shimmering beauty and crystalline musical imagery. Butler provided his own rhythms by tapping on the side of his guitar with his thumb, creating the kind of big sound he developed through years of busking in his native land. As musically superb as it was, "Ocean" probably went on a bit long, tempering a bit of all that rock energy that had been blazing.
The new song "Home," wherein Butler deals with the dichotomy of loving his job but also wanting to be home more with his wife and two kids, found Butler back on electric guitar. Much of the song was delivered as a midtempo ballad/march, before the singer kicked off on a scorching guitar solo that amped it all up to a more fiery pace. That led easily into the older "Revolution," another delightfully polyrhythmic stew.
Butler continually widens the scope of his music, and a good example was the new "Miss Your Love," a poignant soul ballad where his 12-string work and the usual elastic rhythms were enhanced by Corbett playing an organ melody underneath it that sounded straight out of Memphis. The regular set ended with a driving rendition of the new "We Want More," perhaps the most anthemic song on the new album, with Butler singing lines like "Got to believe in love, More than I do in hate, And when they raise the walls, You got to open the gates.." At one point in that finale, all five musicians were pounding away on the tom-tom drums, before Butler went back to the 12-string and brought it all home with the crowd joining in loudly on the choruses.
The three-song encore segment opened with "Living In the City," delivered as a skewed blues-rocker, with that rapid fire hip-hop vocal style, and a hollow-bodied electric guitar, with the kind of phase shifter effects that evoked Jimi Hendrix. The night ended in the familiar 'la-da-da-da-dum.." rhythm of one of Butler's earliest hits, "Zebra," with the star using slide on that 12-string for more typically otherworldy effects, and the crowd yelping along when prompted on the chorus.
Opening act Dustin Thomas and his quartet provided a smart and engaging half hour of their original tunes. Playing acoustic guitar and sporting the biggest Afro this side of Sly Stone, Thomas played in a style not far from Butler's, rootsy folk music heightened by world rhythms. Thomas also benefited greatly from the superb contrast of Monica Valle's electric guitar stylings, and his songs like "You Only Get One Life" and "Light A Fire' showed immense promise.