Despite his being on stage for nigh on two hours and having successfully performed sixteen songs, John Butler is suddenly expressing concern. The source of his discomfiture is the intermittent sound problems he has faced in the interim and when things don’t quite go according to plan Butler enters what he describes as being a “weird head space”. He is now worried that this feeling is being transmitted to the outside world. He need not have worried because the near sell-out Academy crowd roar back their unanimous approval and at this the John Butler Trio duly launch into the first of two well-earned encores, ‘Livin’ In The City’.
A blistering road blues, ‘Livin’ In The City’ is taken from Flesh & Blood. This third date on the UK leg of a mammoth world tour, which won’t end until the band reach San Fransisco in August, is to support this, the John Butler Trio’s recently released sixth studio album. During the course of the evening six other songs are drawn from Flesh & Blood. Spread as they are amongst other notable landmarks from the band’s sixteen year recording career, they all showcase the remarkable dexterity and fluidity of John Butler’s fretwork, be it on his custom made 11-string Maton guitar, electric guitar or even when he straps on a banjo for the faux-hillbilly foot-stomper ‘Hoe Down’ which morphs into a rousing ‘Better Than’ and during which the 39 year old Antipodean asks “What could be better than now?”. At that precise moment in time nobody within the Academy would disagree.
Whilst he can command any number of musical styles be they bluegrass, Celtic, roots or folk, it is perhaps on the blues where John Butler’s playing is at its strongest. Early highlight is ‘I’d Do Anything (Soldier’s Lament)’. Taken from the 2010 long player April Uprising it features not one, but two truly scintillating solos from Butler, a trick he later repeats to maximum effect on Flesh & Blood’s dub-tinged ‘Blame It On Me’.
Yet it is on ‘Ocean’ where John Butler transcends it all. His two most admirable musical lieutenants, bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Grant Gerathy having left him alone on stage, he sets about his eleven string guitar with power, passion and no little proficiency. The only instrumental song of the evening, ‘Ocean’ takes up where the echoplex euphoria of John Martyn and Steve Howe’s paean to Chet Atkins, ‘The Clap’ once left off in the handbook of guitar tutorials. Taken from his eponymous début album it is a master class in folk-blues and even if this mesmeric twelve minute journey was to be taken in isolation from the rest of this resounding evening, it would surely prove to John Butler that he had absolutely nothing whatsoever to agonize over.