What can I tell you about the John Butler Trio (JBT) that you haven’t heard before?
That they are talented to the point of ridiculousness? That even someone who never really got Blues’n’Roots would be standing up tapping their toes with a slack-jawed, loved-up, infectious smile? That JBT don’t just play their instruments, they attack them – and their music – with a ferocity that the audience cannot help but get swept up in?
JBT are what every live band aspire to be – spirited, infectious, generous in their art, surprising, and, a little bit wild. It seemed apt, then, for them to take the stage at Taronga Zoo. JBT’s music scratches at something a little animal-like inside.
It’s an understatement to say that John Butler is a seasoned musician, but he’s also the lovely old soul type. In between sets he speaks animatedly about life stuff he’s been mulling over, and reflects earnestly about how his songs have evolved. He’s also on the demanding side: He berates us for not screaming loud enough, for not singing out passionately enough, for not snatching at life as fiercely in the moment as he and his band-mates clearly have. It’s a much-needed, credible mid-week shake-up as most of us have probably slumped back into our day jobs and given up on our new years resolutions.
I want to tell you about ‘Ocean’, even though you’ve probably heard people gush about it before. There’s a reason for everyone’s cultish following of this performance live. Even that obnoxiously drunk lass at the front who screeched “OCEAN!” as John Butler was introducing the song – as soon as he played the first bar I knew how she became so crazed, I could see how she lost her mind; I understood.
You don’t just have “a moment” with this song, it’s probably the equivalent of a musical high. One second you’re marvelling at John Butler’s nimble fingers plucking at the strings with superhuman speed, the next you’re startled out of a soothing wave as he slams at his guitar to reverberate the notes. Just when you think it’s about to hit its height, it keeps rising. It’s an instrumental so intricate and beautiful that you swear there are lyrics there, that it’s saying something to you.
And even when you listen to a recording of a ‘live’ version, you really, truly have to be there. I suspect he evolves it every time. For an inspired, refreshing way to spend a crisp summer eve, check out the line-up at Twilight at Taronga here – but be quick, as tickets are selling fast!