So last Wednesday night it was off to the Carling in Liverpool to see the John Butler Trio, who were making a brief visit to the UK as part of the 'Grand National' tour. Makes Liverpool an obvious place to visit really (Grand National - Aintree - do you see? Ah well).
Can't say I went into the gig as a massive fan. Son number 2 - generally an excellent judge of these things - saw them first at Glastonbury 2005, and had told me how good they were so I'd picked up a few CDs that I'd played intermittently but not really given them the attention they deserved. That said, I'd liked what I'd heard so was really looking forward to seeing the band up close.
Didn't know what to expect in terms of the crowd - whilst they are relatively rare visitors to these shores, the trio don't seem to be that high up the critical radar. Mind you, the country is crawling with expatriate Aussies, so maybe the ranks of visiting supporters would swell the ranks. As it was, the band were performing in the main Academy, which was probably 3/4 full of a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd. One or two Aussie twangs in evidence, but mostly home supporters of variable age and sex.
First up was Kaki King, an American guitaress playing solo. Technically she was absolutely fantastic, but it lacked a bit of passion for me - all a bit soulless. The crowd were polite but distant and the constant undercurrent of chatter didn't help the music cut through. Nice support but don't think I'll be rushing down to Fopp anytime soon.
Anyway, check Kaki out at www.kakiking.com
To the strains of Nina Simone's 'Feeling Good', the trio strolled out to a warm reception at around half eight. Then proceeded to play their socks off for the next two and a half hours - time that seemed to pass by in minutes. I can't remember the last time I went to a concert that lasted that long - if you get an hour and a half from the headliner you seem to be doing well. The passion so missing from the support flowed out of every pore of the Trio, the quality of the musicianship was phenomenal and the sheer joy of being there, performing, was self-evident. The pacing of the show was spot on, and the time just flew by. Many highlights, including a passionate and flawless 'Ocean' played solo by JB. Oh, and we had a bass solo. And a drum solo. Involving the use of hands as well as drumsticks, a la Bonham circa 1975. There was a time (around 1977) when I would have sneered at the drum solo but I loved it.
I wish I could describe the music to you but it defies categorisation. 'Roots' is as near as I can get, with a hint of folk and reggae in there, but that sells it short. All I can suggest is that you hear the trio for yourself. Go to www.johnbutlertrio.com and listen/download. From there go to www.archive.org and download one of the many live shows that are there - JBT is one of those fine groups that encourage taping of live shows and there are many that you can (legally) download and enjoy.
And enjoy you will, I'm sure.