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May 16, 2011 | by  | in Music |
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John Butler Trio, Saturday 7 May, The Front Room

A friend recently announced that nothing, not even having her own children, would beat being front row at John Butler Trio. Fortunately, life’s not about what’s better than, although her future children can take comfort in that it was a damned good show.

On Saturday night virtuoso guitarist John Butler and his new band treated a sold-out crowd to an energy-laden performance at The Front Room. With all the usual musical mastery, the charismatic frontman led the audience on a two-hour plus musical ‘journey,’ which traversed all the JBT classics, along with material from their 2010 album, April Uprising. Drummer Nicky Bomba and bassist Byron Luiters, both of whom have joined the band in the last twelve months, proved themselves as a tight and dynamic rhythm section. It’s undeniable this band have great chemistry. Best of all, they seemed to be having a genuinely great time.

And their attitude was contagious. The crowd rocked, skanked and swayed their way happily through the entire set. As John Butler himself remarked, it was neither “a rock show, a folk show, nor a fucking reggae show,” but a synthesis of styles which is so unique to the JBT sound. Each and every song was musically flawless but refreshingly unpolished. Perhaps by virtue of the relatively small venue, the entire show felt raw, natural and friendly.

Highlights included the timelessly funky ‘Zebra’ and John’s entrancing rendition of ‘Ocean’ at half-time. The heart-wrenching instrumental left the entire audience transfixed, with the exception of one fan who continued to scream obliviously for it for the rest of the show (how can you miss it, “the thing’s like twenty fuckin’ minutes long!?”)

What struck me most about the concert, however, was the band’s improvisation. Songs flowed seamlessly into one another with instrumental interludes on everything from the banjo to the didgeridoo. John Butler demonstrated his usual magic on the fretboard, and at one point sat back to allow his rhythm section to feed off one another in what was no less than an epic jam. But this was no Fat Freddy’s. The improvisation, although frequent, never felt laboured or meandering. The entire show was characterised by an unrelenting intensity, even in its most melodic moments.

“We live in crazy times,” Butler mused to the crowd at one point. We certainly do. Osama’s dead, the royals are wed, and Katy Perry makes her concerts smell like candyfloss. But in these times, Butler said, “as long as you’re happier now than when you walked into the room,” a musician’s job is done. And there were a lot of happy people in The Front Room that night. It was refreshing to see a band without three-tiered staging or elaborate costumes captivate a crowd with their genuine musical talent. Forget Katy Perry, these guys are the real deal.

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