Can I get a hell yeah
If you're as lost as I am
In the midst of the insanity of the near sold out show at the Metro, in Chicago, the crowd is hovering around the stage as the rock star performing has suddenly abandoned the spotlight to be with the people, on the floor, in the pit and in the heart of pure lunacy. Hes singing about being lost and disillusioned but when he asks the crowd for a hell yeah, they respond devotedly. Butch Walker is an artist who takes every show to another level, for better or worse, to make sure whether you love his shows or hate them
you walk away unable to forget about it. The energy, charisma, talent, determination and pure joy in Butchs performance are rarely seen at concerts anymore. Far too many artists have a hard time balancing being serious artist and the main goal and purpose of rock n roll- having fun. Butch not only does it well, he does it marvelously. This is why Butch Walker may be the last of the great rock stars.
In the here today, gone tomorrow pop culture, artists live in a vacuum that sucks them through the celebrity machine so quickly, they get spit out before they have even been digested. If an artist is lucky, they break through with their debut album, get a song on the radio and hastily record a follow up. All too often their next album is a letdown and more times than not, they lose their record deal. My issue with this system is that an artists career does not have time to gradually grow and breathe. As a result, they often stall creatively due to the nature of the business and unreasonable demands which have everything to do with the bottom line. Every once in a while you find an artist who builds their audience, one person and one performance at a time without diving into the deep end of the celebrity pool. Ani Difranco made her career this way by playing street corners, coffee houses, small clubs, big clubs and eventually theaters. It took her a solid decade to build her following, but when she did, she had a career and more importantly, she had credibility. Most recently, Butch Walker has walked down a similar path. I have seen this industry veteran give his all over the last eighteen months in every one of his performances and hes gone from a act with a small devoted fan base to a cult act with a rabid following.
In May of 04, Butch made his first appearance in Chicago, in support of his Epic Records debut, Letters. That first appearance was a solo acoustic gig at the Abbey Pub. Since then, I have seen Butch at the Abbey, Metro, an outdoor park and even the United Center arena. What amazed me at each and every turn was the complete and total control he had of the audience whether the crowd was 300 or 12,000. I enjoy seeing an artist who gives their all each and every time they hit the concert stage despite the size of the crowd or venue. This was never more evident as Butch made his final stop in Chicago, in support of Letters, a few weeks back. This was his third Metro appearance in eleven months and with each gig, the word spread and the crowds swelled. This performance was a near sell-out and anyone who saw it knows why. Right from the get go with the anthemic Uncomfortably Numb, Butch was able to take charge of the audience. His crowds are among the most fervent I have even seen. Participation is not only desired but deemed essential. As Butch headed out on stage he raised his hand, walked up to the microphone
1, 2, 3
scream grabbed the crowd by the jugular and for the next 100-minutes, he held it tightly.
As the tour was winding down, new material found its way into the set list. The first of the new numbers, Wreck Me, had a chorus that kicked in righteously to a keen reaction from the audience. Old standards Maybe Its Just Me, Indie Queen and Dont Move continued the show in machine gun fashion as Butch and his 4-piece band rolled from one tune to another. Butch switched up things from leg to leg of the tour. For the first time since hes written the song, Mixtape was missing from the set. This is his best chance at a hit single and even though I love the song to pieces, it was good to see him rest it and give newer material its chance to stand out. The b-side Last Flight Out flourished live and I feel it sounds good enough to be potentially resurrected and rescued from b-side status for his next record (although considering how prolific Mr. Walker is, I doubt this will occur). The piano set was shortened to two songs; Joan and Cigarette Lighter Love Song. These quieter songs were riveting to watch as one could see how entranced Butch becomes when performing these songs at the piano. Its as if there is no one else near him as he is truly lost within his own world.
The true revelations of the evening were the covers Butch pulled out of his back pocket. An audible was called early in the set in honor of Butchs birthday with the genuine and animated The Kids Are Alright. Butch welcomed a member of the crowd up on stage for the Bowie classic, Lets Dance and from out of nowhere in the first encore, he slowly began to strum and perform Laid from the brilliant, yet forgotten, English band James. Being a die hard James fan, this caught me completely off guard. These are the moments I love about concerts, where you are genuinely astonished to the extent that you want to see this artist again, just in the hopes they will leave you in a state of disbelief. Even if you dont travel to see an artist or even see them only once every few years, you hope to walk away from each show with a feeling of individuality, that you saw something no other city will see. I have walked away from each of Butchs six performances knowing and feeling I beheld something few others will see. Artists willing to take risks nightly and reward crowds with something indisputably unforgettable stand the best chance at having repeat customers. I am thankful Butch is conscious of this and puts his idiosyncratic imprint on each show.
For the final number Butch pulled out a new tune, When Canyons Ruled and ensued the crowd was not left in the cold during it. He began a sing a long which had the males singing one part and the females another. The crowd was completely lost in the moment, then one by one, Butchs band descended off stage until there was no one left except the 1,100 patrons of the Metro and one Mr. Butch Walker. Alone and by himself, just as he had been eighteen-months previously at the Abbey Pub Im sure Butch was patting himself on the back as he had come full circle. Since that small club gig eighteen months earlier, Butchs Chicago audience has increased three-fold and the believers and hardcore devotees have only grown more devoted. As I watched the euphoric crowd (with the house lights shining down on them) continue to sing, Butch slowly made his way off stage. He was brought out one last time by his band and the openers, where they descended a birthday cake upon him. However, when the stage emptied for the final time I realized there is a strong possibility this may be one of the last times I witness Butch in a setting this intimate, as his talent and exuberant personality can not go unnoticed forever and the next album may very well break him into the mainstream.
Whether he continues to play clubs or arenas, I know Ill be there, because every time you pay to see a Butch Walker concert, I know I will be witnessing an artist who will gives his all and leave one feeling like you saw something distinctive and true to not only your heart, but his as well.