Album review: John Butler Trio Live at Red Rocks
THE John Butler Trio has been around for more than a decade and love them or loathe them, the time had certainly arrived for the Australians to headline a show in the US with such musical stature as the Red Rocks amphitheatre.
More than 6,000 fans sold out the venue for what was billed the trio’s biggest ever US gig. Five studio albums, their most recent, April Uprising, debuted at number one last year on the Australian album charts. The stage was set for an unforgettable live show.
It all started out so well. Used to get high, Betterman, Better Than and Take Me all showcase JBT at their funky, eclectic best. The sound is a delicate mix of electric and acoustic, smooth bass, pounding drums and the raw emotion of Butler’s vocals. The trio is renowned for music heavily laced with political messages and Revolution carries it off perfectly.
April Uprising, the newest album is undoubtedly more accessible to a wider audience, but that’s not to say JBT has sold out in any way. Far from it. The energy and enthusiasm that the latest pair of Butler’s amigos, Nicky Bomba and Byron Luiters have brought to the album, and the stage is unfaltering. Their determination to constantly push the boundaries with a sound, a beat or a guitar lick is what has ensured JBT remains such a commercial success.
But something just goes incredibly awry.
Treat Yo Mama is almost 11 minutes of over-the-top, self-indulgence that isn’t all that well received. Ocean, the staple of any JBT live performance and one of those songs that soothes the mind when all else fails, was at least three minutes too long. By the end the audience has seemingly lost the feel, the purpose of such a powerful song. (Ocean Live at Lollapalooza is an example of how good this song can be). Good Excuse is all 17 minutes of blah blah.
Butler’s voice is unquestionably off, and something tells me he’d be the first to admit it. Two of the most successful singles from April Uprising, One Way Road and Close to You, played at the back half of the gig are lost in this drowning sense of excessive showmanship.
I saw JBT live in London earlier this year, and have seen them numerous times in Australia. Their show in London was the best gig I’ve seen of theirs, by a long, long way.
Live at Red Rocks is a musical threesome acting as though it has something to prove and sadly, the brilliance of the John Butler Trio is lost.