Iâ€™d never heard of John Butler. Maybe itâ€™s because Iâ€™m not exactly in touch with the Australian indie scene, though Iâ€™m familiar with Josh Pyke whom I found through Arcady Magazine, but Iâ€™d never heard of John Butler.
Through a divine misshuffle, I ended up with a ticket to a concert I hadnâ€™t heard about by a guy Iâ€™d never heard of on a day I was scheduled to work late. Somehow I was able to get off work early, and so it began. YouTube just doesnâ€™t do John Butler justice.
He started with a 12-string guitar.
I donâ€™t know how many of you play guitar, but picking on a normal guitar is hard enough. While I love the sound of a 12-string, I find it really hard to do much more than strum with it. I never thought much could be done with it. But Iâ€™d never heard of John Butler.This man speed-picks a 12-string with unnerving precision (and acrylic nails). This man is the only independent artist ever to break double platinum. This man is amazing.
This man? The John Butler Trio was inerrant. Each member is a virtuoso in his own right. Shannon Birchall was an unbelievable upright bass player. Iâ€™ve played bass, and I know good upright bass players, but this guy clearly has classical musical training. I mean, the Chili Peppersâ€™ Flea is good, but this guyâ€™s bass solos? He makes the bass a truly respectable instrument.
The drummer? Michael Barker had a ridiculous drum set. Very few drummers Iâ€™ve heard match his quality. Tool’s Danny Carey is still probably the best, if only for his infallible rhythm, but Michael Barker had quite a presence&mdashprobably because he was ginormous. I swear, this guy was head and shoulders taller than anyone else on stage.
The band did a great job making the crowd feel like this was the best venue theyâ€™d had. They smiled, they laughed, they obviously enjoyed the music they played.
Butler used a banjo, a 12-string guitar, a 6-string guitar, a steel guitar, and a ukulele. All of the instruments were acoustic, but Butler manipulated each to make it sound however he pleased. Songs bordered on country, bluegrass, jazz, rock, reggae, and almost anything that allows for funky sounds. His tasteful use of distortion makes an acoustic sound like an electric, but not just an electricâ€”better than an electric. I actually prefer the sound of his acoustic with distortion than a fully electric guitar.
The climax of show probably had to have been his 15-minute song â€œOcean.â€ It was one of those songs during which you donâ€™t notice time. His acrylic fingernails tore over the guitar. Every time I go to a concert I cringe, anticipating mistakes. At this concert? I forgot about the possibility. As this song played, a friend asked in awe, â€œWas John Butlerâ€¦ crying?â€ to which another friend replied, â€œI was.â€
One of my personal favorites was â€œCaroline,â€ a soft, contemplative song. The band shows that they can play quiet, slow, and simple, not just loud, fast, and complex. One of the most fun was â€œGroovinâ€™ Slowlyâ€ which was undeniably a product of Bob Marley worship. Itâ€™s an uncomplicated, smile-inducing song. Instead of tearing up various instruments, these slow songs probably attest most to John Butlerâ€™s talent. He doesnâ€™t confuse speed with music. â€œLosing Youâ€ is a lovely song:
â€œAnd I donâ€™t mind losing sleep,
Pray the Lord my soul to keep.
I’ll get pure and so when I am there,
But â€˜til, â€˜til then wont you share my bed â€˜cause
All I mind’s, losing you.â€
Butler, at least from his lyrics, seems to have grown up in a Christian environment, or at least with Christian elements. Now? Heâ€™s got Hindu statues on stage and strong Eastern influences in his songs. Yes, heâ€™s a dirty hippie, but with one distinction: he bathes. Iâ€™ll admit, Iâ€™ve always been attracted to bohemian sentiments. I used to walk around barefoot with ragged jeans, long hair, and an old guitar. John Butler makes me want to do that all over again.
Perhaps the biggest sign that I like his music is that I didnâ€™t borrow a CD from a friend, I didnâ€™t download his music using peer-to-peer softwareâ€”I bought it. Thatâ€™s right. I went home, opened iTunes and bought Grand National. Someone will review this at a later time, but each of you who hasnâ€™t heard of John Butler yet? Now you have.
Stewart Lundy is a senior writer for Patrol.
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