Monday, April 14, 2008

John Butler Trio - Concert Review by: Terry Lowe

Commodore Ballroom, Apr 12, 2008 - Sold Out

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An email from Christine instructed me to meet her in front of the Commodore at 10 p.m. to see the John Butler Trio. "Who's the John Butler Trio?" I wondered, turning to Google.

I soon found that they are a platinum-selling band from Australia, best known for wide-ranging, eclectic, and somewhat improvised stage shows. Their best known release to date is 2003's Sunrise Over Sea. I also saw many plaintive queries on various message boards asking "Where can I get a ticket for this show? I NEED a ticket!" and so forth.

Here's what we saw: a giant drum set, a standup (i.e. acoustic) bass, and an amplified acoustic guitar. They were joined occasionally by a keyboard player, and I was certain there was a second electric guitarist in the background, but was informed it was a guitar tuning tech.

The word "trio" is usually reserved for jazz ensembles, and there were some similarities here: the upright-bass player, who also played a standard electric bass guitar, at times played his acoustic bass with a bow; they played extended instrumental pieces; and the musical range was all over the map. There, though, the similarities ended.

They are very good musicians, far more instrumentalists than singers/"rock stars" who revel in mixing and matching genres and making it work. They are very versatile, imaginative, and well-rehearsed. John Butler is a superb string player (who also plays a banjo), and can coax an amazing range of sounds from an amplified 12-string acoustic guitar. The drummer was also very good, and even had a Jamaican steel drum that he played with pom-pons. And the bass player stood there and held it all together, as good bass players should.

The audience was thoroughly familiar with the material, even if I wasn't, and they loved it. This band is definitely original, and I was left wishing I'd known more about them going in (there's always time to learn), and was puzzled by the crowds' reaction at times.

I've been to any number of jazz shows over the years, and seen some famous players (Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Frank Zappa, and even Captain Beefheart). I've also been to classic punk shows and seen The Clash, Iggy Pop, DOA, and so forth. At jazz shows, the audience applauds solos, but there's no mosh pit and no one EVER pogos. At the punk shows, no one cared about solos ("Wankers!"), or even cared much about music - there it was all rebellious attitude.

Here, the crowd's reaction was a strange merger of the two. They both applauded the solo instrumental and pogo'd. I've never seen anything quite like it. And, outside of jazz shows, I'd never seen any band sit down and play an instrumental piece (Ocean) that went on for 15 minutes, and keep the crowd's attention.

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I was very impressed by this band, and admire their virtuosity and originality. If you're as clueless as I am about under-the-radar musicians, the John Butler Trio might just be the best band you've never heard of.

Members of the band are: John Butler, Michael Barker, Shannon Birchall

Thanks to Aaron for supplying the following set list:
Company Sin
Used To Get High
Somethings Gotta Give
Treat Your Mama
Thank You
Gov Did Nothing
Good As Gone
Groovin' Slowly
Good Excuse
Losing You w/Mama Kin
Better Than
Funky Tonight

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