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BBC Club, London 8 March 2010

John Butler
Zoom (Click large image to cancel) Photo: Gwyn Ashton

With a roots rock and jamming background and successful tours with the Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer it's not difficult to see how the John Butler Trio is tailor made for the American alt. indie rock market that is so clearly defined by the annual Lollapalooza Festival. The American born and Australian raised Butler is already a multi-platinum selling recording artist down under and with a new band, a new album and the current single 'One Way Road' his music has undergone a slight shift of emphasis which focuses more directly on the songs.

Where in the past Butler explored different genres and thought nothing of incorporating ostensibly different styles into his music, he's taken a step forward on his latest album 'April Rising' and settled on a more tightly focussed shorter song format, though as this session showed he's not the sort of performer to be constricted by format. His guitar playing is as intense as his singing is passionate and it's the restless search for meaning that pushes his songs into the spiritual domain.

Ever the socially aware singer song writer, John took the stage to remind us that is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day before he launched his trio into an unlikely wall of sound on 'Revolution', the opening song on the new album.

And while 'April Uprising' may suggest a political angle, his lyrics deal equally with the spiritual and the self as much as with the public domain. The mix of his synth guitar and a tight rhythm section including Nicky Bombay's deft use of carrib steel pan percussion helped worked up a sumptuous groove.

Ever in the moment, John started and abandoned the intro to the following 'Johnny's Gone' because as he humorously explained, 'my capo had slipped from the 5th to the 4th fret'. All brush strokes and three part harmonies it was a good example of the song driven focus of the new album.

John reverted to solo mode on the traditional instrumental 'Ocean' - which he dedicated to his promoter and manager Phil Stevens - and through a mix of tapping the hollow end of his guitar, some slick left handed finger work and the occasional dampened chord with his fore finger, he achieved a mesmerising chiming effect that was punctuated only by a single note left ringing around the room before the song returned to its echoing intensity

This song neatly showcased some of John's Indic and Celtic influences as he built up some incredible waves of cascading sounds on his acoustic guitar and effects. It was the sort of ethereal sound that gave the late John Martyn his niche. JB was a picture of concentration and inspiration and with his mesmerising technique he seemed to momentarily physically drain the audience. Indeed after they duly showed their appreciation the crowd was suddenly reduced to silence, a fact that led to John to exclaim 'you're so quiet, it scares the hell out of me'.

And as if seizing the moment he switched to electric mode on his Strat for a full band work out, including a cowbell on 'Closer to You'. In contrast he finished seated with a Dobro on his lap for the jaunty single, 'One Way Road'. The Men at Work influenced single is full of jerky rhythms, bristling slide work and a hurried vocal hook that should given him a decent shot at the radio.

Review by Pete Feenstra

Photos by Gwyn Ashton


Pete Feenstra talks to John Butler (Windows Media)

(Video: Gwyn Ashton)

(Real Media)

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