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Band Concert Review

Butch Walker: Flying High Again

By Anthony Kuzminski

Chicago, IL-House of Blues
April 10, 2007

The world is littered with performers who all want to be rock stars, however few artists ever reach this plateau. One that has is Butch Walker. In a day and age riddled with one-hit wonders that can’t fill a club, Walker is a revelation. For my money, Will Hoge and Butch Walker are the two most vivid and lively performers on concert stages today. Walker exudes a personality big enough to warrant attention in a football stadium. This past July, he released his most adventurous album to date ‘Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites’, an record big on T-Rex guitar riffs. It was a departure from his norm and Walker’s first album I didn’t find immediately digestible upon first listen. Over time, I have grown to appreciate the glorious throw back distorted harmonies.

It was his second stop in Chicago in support of this record and right from the first note performed, Walker and his band appeared very comfortable on stage and with the new material. Last summer’s performance, while a wild joyride and full of moments of grandeur, felt a tad forced as he attempted to bring the club show to an arena level. At his second performance at the House of Blues, nothing felt forced; this time around the show excelled with a minimalist approach, four band members, Walker’s charisma and a stunning array of lights. There may have only been 1,400 in attendance, but I don’t think anyone told that to Butch Walker as he performed as if it was 14,000.

The evening started off with “Uncomfortably Numb” which was performed with an unrelenting and ferocious power. For the next 100-minutes, Walker and his four-piece band soared through the set like a 747 trying to make up for lost time. “Alicia Amnesia” was a pleasant surprise which featured the entire band in a refreshing plugged in performance returning the song to its anthemic glory. Without any new album to promote, Butch Walker appeared a thousand times more confident than he did last summer. The set list showcased what Walker does best. With each album, producing gig, performance and tour Walker broadens his palette never settling for the status quo. If you have any doubt, listen to the unvarnished sounds of “Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed” or “Taste of Red”, which show Walker pushing the envelope. He’ll never be satisfied delivering the status quo. He’s constantly expanding horizons while brazenly gearing his shows for the audience.

The most surprising aspect of these performances was how the alluring melodies from ‘Letters’ continue to reveal themselves to me nearly three-years after its release. I live for artists who wear their hearts on the sleeves. Peter Gabriel did this with his 1992 masterpiece ‘Us’ as did Bob Dylan with ‘Blood On The Tracks’, two of the bloodiest break-up albums ever. ‘Letters’ deserves to be spoken in the same breath as the emotional wreckage of past relationships shines through with alluring melodies and succinct arrangements. ‘Letters’ will be a classic cult album decades from now. On this particular evening, “#1 Summer Jam”, “Maybe It’s Just Me” and the show closer “Lights Out” were performed with divine ardor. “Mixtape” is a song that author and writer Rob Sheffield (of Rolling Stone and Spin) would love; it’s a perfect pop song which takes on another life when seen in concert with an epic jam of eruption and emotion. If Sheffield had heard the song before I’m sure he would have found a place to quote it in his excellent book “Love Is A Mixtape”. One of the reasons Butch Walker has an audience that is so devoted is because they profoundly relate to his songs. They feel a connection to this material and it’s more than just background noise; it’s something they desperately believe in. This is why Walker continually sells out clubs across America while one-hit wonders can’t even give tickets away.

The remainder of the set featured orgasmic heart wrenching epiphanies alongside cherry-picked rarities pleasing even the most devout fan. A number of rarely performed solo songs and a few choice Marvelous 3 songs were dusted off as well. “Indie Queen” sounded glorious with its larger than life sound and is a perfect example of why Walker is an in-demand producer. Inventive arrangements of “Far Away From Close” and “Over Your Head” brought giddy excitement to Walker’s passionate followers. I often wonder why other acts don’t cover these songs as they are instantaneously etched in your head. The evening’s biggest surprise was the subtle and sublime “Stateline”, which was a hidden track at the end of ‘Letters’. I haven’t listened to the album’s final track, “Thank You Note” in a long time and as a result of this show, I re-discovered not just “Stateline” but the last few songs on ‘Letters’ as well.

Seeing Butch Walker live is like having great sex; it’s sweaty, sultry, elevating, making your heart skip a beat, drenching and providing you with a profound and deep connection. The second it is over, you immediately want more. Walker’s seductive melodies are a hypnotizing presence that makes you forget about your troubles while at the same time forces you to look in the mirror and question what you need to do to improve your life.

Walker has one of the most devout and religious followings around. Just three years ago, he was playing to a few hundred people in Chicago and this most recent performance at the House of Blues was near capacity of 1,400. Do the math and that is an increase of over 1,000 in fewer than three-years, which is astounding. It’s even more amazing considering Butch’s record sales. I have seen acts with platinum records only draw a third of this capacity. This speaks volumes of his charisma and live show. Walker continually gives back to his audience. It is almost as if Butch is flash-frozen in time of an era long gone when performers did not leave the stage until both band and fan were soaked in sweat. Unlike many performers who tour as a way to boost their ego, Butch Walker is acutely aware of his rock n’ roll lineage. To understand a fan, you have to be one and Walker clearly is one. He loves music and wants his audiences to walk away from these performances with it forever forged in their hearts, minds and souls.

Anthony Kuzminski can be found at The Screen Door

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