When John Butler told the sold-out crowd at the Electric Factory that merely four years ago his band played in Philly to a crowd of only seven people, it was hard to imagine. The incredibly talented, and rather underrated John Butler Trio, were embraced by their fans, and it was proof that Philly knows how to discover great music.
The John Butler Trio has gained steam all over the U.S. with its double-platinum album Sunrise Over Sea. The Australian band, a unique combination of folk, rock and bluegrass, were broadcast live on 88.5 WXPN during their set. But seeing them live is truly the way to appreciate this band.
Opening with the anti-war anthem “Something’s Gotta Give,” the John Butler Trio got the show off to a rocking start. That intensity did not let go for the next two and a half hours. Keeping the pace of playing songs off the last album they moved on to some more socially conscious songs: “Treat Yo Mama (Wit Respect)” and “Company Sin.” One of the nice things about John Butler Trio is that they can be political without going overboard. Butler will simply flash a peace sign and share his music.
“What You Want” and “Old Man” followed (both also off Sunrise Over Sea), and unlike a lot of bands whose fans get disappointed when older material isn’t played, for John Butler Trio’s fans, this wasn’t the case.
The energy in the air was palpable, but nothing quite prepared anyone for “Ocean.” After “Old Man,” drummer Michael Barker and bassist Shannon Birchall left the stage. John was left alone with his guitar and his waiting audience. “Ocean” as John told the crowd, was one of the first songs he’d ever written, and every night it changes. “Ocean,” which has no lyrics, is known for being played up to 15 minutes, and as Butler joked, “One of these days, it will be an hour long.”
If any song does justice to just how talented John Butler is as a guitar player, the sounds he emitted from his guitar during “Ocean” were a testament to that. The crowd stood in complete awe as the song he carried with him for years was given to us. When it was over, the applause and cheers were booming.
The other two members returned for the crowd-pleaser, “Peaches and Cream,” a fan sing-a-long favorite. While watching the three perform live together, you could tell how much they respect and enjoy playing with one another. When Barker and Birchall left for Butler’s solo he treated them with a warm smile upon their return.
Re-assembled they continued with the songs “Danielle,” “Better Man” and “Hello.” The song “Pickapart” closed out the set and featured a battle of the drums, as each member synchronized beats and went off on their own jams. This caused another reaction so loud from the audience, one might really believe the old cliché of bringing the house down might actually become a reality.
They almost immediately for their encore which featured the perfect closers “Damned to Hell,” “Zebra” and “Funky.” If the John Butler Trio can go from seven people to a sold-out show at the Electric Factory, there’s no telling how big they’ll get in the future. The next time they’re in town see what other Philadelphia music fans have already figured out.
Aly Semigran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.