John Butler Trio, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA- 11/9
Performing at a packed and lively Electric Factory (which was full a half hour before the show and where the audience erroneously applauded three times for the group’s entrance on stage before they finally got it right) on their Good Excuse tour, the John Butler Trio entertained the audience by blending their eclectic musical styles while largely doing songs from their most recent album, Grand National, and throwing in a nice surprise.
Following the opening act Ian Ball, the JBT got their set rolling with “Used to Get High,” a song about not being in control of your life and being gullible, in which Butler starts singing in a reflective tone. An appropriate choice, considering the group is known for its socially-conscious and thought-provoking lyrics. There are several such offerings on Grand National, two of them were performed at the Electric Factory: “Gov Did Nothin,’” (a tribute to the people of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and a song that utilizes the sound of a New Orleans-like brass band) and “Fire in the Sky,” a rather angry rock tune that questions the need and desire to go to war. Still, the group didn’t omit some hits from previous albums, such as “Betterman” and “Zebra,” song about opposites (in which Butler sings “I can be black or I can be white). And Butler introduced “Treat Your Mama,” a favorite from the Sunrise Over Sea album, by more or less describing it as an ode to the environment.
The above mentioned songs weren’t surprises. However, a touch of Liverpool was. “We usually don’t do covers,” Butler told the audience towards the end of the show. But it was appropriate considering the state of the world for everyone to “come together.” So the group performed the Beatles’ classic with a folk feel to much applause.
The highlight of any JBT show typically is not any particular song, it’s the totality of the experience. Butler, in addition to doing lead vocals, played the guitar, mouth harp, and banjo. As usual, he was accompanied on stage by drummer Michael Barker and bassist Shannon Birchall, and they worked well together. But Butler more than held his own doing two tunes solo: “Losing You” (a melancholic tune in which he plays guitar and sings about the frightening thought of losing his wife) and an instrumental named “Ocean” on his guitar. Birchall also showed his versatility, adeptly playing the double and electric bass. Another highlight of the show was the drum solo by Barker during “Better Than,” which drew a thunderous applause.
Sometimes, there’s a feeling that a certain song has to be played for the concert to be complete. During the encore, the JBT played “Good Excuse” fitting because it is the Good Excuse tour. But that folksy tune wasn’t it. The group then finished the show perfectly with “Funky Tonight,” a party jam with attitude in which Birchall’s electric bass guitar could be heard thundering through the Electric Factory. Although perhaps not the best song to perform on an acoustic guitar while sitting (as Butler was doing), the dance track with a bluegrass and funk feeling got everyone moving and grooving. And it allowed the concert to end on a high note.