From a dready skater busking on the streets of Australia, to a world-touring artist selling out one of America’s most premiere venues, John Butler proves authenticity in music truly prevails.
Friday night’s Red Rocks gig was simulcast live over cyber waves to ensure that the whole globe could relish in the spunky, feel-good beats the Aussie chaps threw down on this, their largest headlining show.
The festivities were kicked off by Bostonian reggae rockers State Radio, who blended together opposite genres of music with ease. While their pop punkish vibe differed from the other acts on the bill, the crowd still seemed entranced by their songs which definitely set the celebratory mood.
Prior to Butler’s set, the three musketeers of jazzy funk-laden grooves, Medeski Martin and Wood, treated attendees to their distinct danceable sound, which fans have come to know and freakin love. These guys reinforced the fact that you don’t need one line of a lyric to ignite a wave of excitement with their atonal and arrhythmic improves, that oozed like bubbling lava from volcanic rock.
Right before JBT’s set, Jam fans where treated to a heavy dose of Native American culture. Plains Indians passionately beat on drums and offered up traditional singing, along with a blessing. Dancers, in full headdresses, demonstrated a series of authentic moves symbolic of the very facets of nature itself. A youngster mimicked the hurried motions of a ‘prairie chicken,’ which had members of the audience feeling as though they had just stepped into the National Geographic Channel.
But, the sight of these special guests somehow fit perfectly into the setting, once you stop to think about Butler— a man who has lent his voice to aboriginal rights and who usually starts gigs by thanking the ‘indigenous people’ of the land.
As the natives exited the stage, Butler and the boys jumped headfirst into ‘Used to Get High,’ the track that starts with a drummer-boy intro and blasts off into a rapture of instrumental fervor.
Randomly, the dancers made their way back on stage, to shake some feathers and jam out to the opening tune, which created a commanding visual statement. The sight of these folks, whose ancestors had been the initial inhabiters of the land, grooving to a song that warned against consumerism and all of its addictive downfalls spoke volumes.
‘Don’t Wanna See Your Face’ was schoolyard bully dialogue paired with early Red Hot Chili Pepper-esque beats that conjured up head bopping. Bassist Byron Luiters seemed to capture the playfulness of Flea.
A banjo blazing toe-tappin’ hoe-down segwayed into ‘Better Than’— the gleeful tune that advises listeners to stop with the 'grass-is-always-greener' covet mentality.
‘Treat Your Mama Right,’ the unofficial treehuggerin anthem, sounded right on as Butler rested his caboose on a seat and pulled out the old dobro for some slide style action. Lyrics about environmental treesitters nestled perfectly against the wailing sounds escaping from Butler’s instrument.
During ‘Losing You,’ a valentine of a song whose message toys with the notion of all we need is love, Butler was joined by his wife Danielle. While the idea of the couple singing together was enthralling, the very act fell short of moving. Danielle’s voice seemed to drown out Butler’s and the lack of harmony couldn’t have been more apparent.
With ‘Zebra,’ once again the positive beats crashed head on with the encouraging lyrics—‘I can be anything I put my mind to boy/all I gotta do is give myself half a chance.’ In a sense, Butler is like a guidance counselor, only with shredding skills that rival Clapton.
At one point in the evening, he gazed out at the crowd and expressed how the amphitheater resembled a ‘launch ramp into the cosmos’ and he invited us to join him in a universal prayer for ‘peace, unity and love on this planet.’
Drummer Nicky Bomba jumped on the metaphysical bandwagon encouraging attendees to actually turn, face away from the stage, and with arms raised give a warm shout-out to the universe.
Hugged by the crimson rocks, fans listened and bestowed a gift of gratitude to the earth on this warm June night.
A three-song encore started off with 2004’s classic ‘Peaches and Cream’— a mellowed out song where Butler wore his family-man heart on his guitar strap, praising the very presence of his wife and children in thoughtful lyrics.
‘One Way Road,’ the single off of the latest album April Uprising, got fan’s feet flailing once again. This track captured all the elements of a JBT hit— socially conscious lyrics heavily doused with a catchy riff and chorus that days later will no doubt swim around in your skull like a shiny gilled goldfish.
‘Funky Tonight’ was marked by thumping bass and lyrics about getting down that still managed to stay within the PG arena.
The highlight of the night came with ‘Ocean,’ an effervescent guitar solo that has the ability to sweep you up in mere seconds. Starting off with mildly beautiful plucks and later catapulting into strum-heavy nirvana, it exemplifies the very magic of music.
Butler even used his six-string to add some percussion, smacking the body of his guitar with drive and for a moment it became clear-----take away the stellar lighting and the 9,450 fans and he still was that bohemian musician thankful for attentive ears and crumpled loot in his guitar case.