At Philadelphia’s Fillmore, The John Butler Trio Rages In Heavy Driven Acoustic Element (SHOW REVIEW)

In support of its newest release and seventh studio album, Home, the John Butler Trio returned to Philadelphia for an energizing performance at the Fillmore on November 17th. It’s been four years since the band released its last record, Flesh & Blood, and in that time, the touring arrangement has grown to feature an expanded duo of multi-instrumentalists, further filling out the percussive element of the band. Audiences have steadily grown as well, having welcomed the Western-Australia based group to larger and larger venues now on each album cycle.

In typical tradition, Butler opened the show by paying homage to the Native American ancestors and dedicated the performance to them; showing respect to the original landowners. This reflection seemed to calibrate the audience and bring focus at the top of the set.

Throughout the show, the band moved between the core setup of the trio and the expanded five-piece unit, the later reserved mostly for songs off of the new record. This tour featured two additional members, percussionist/vocalist Lozz Benson, and keyboardist/vocalist Ben Corbett, who especially aided in harmonies and broadened the rhythm section.  

Opening the set, the band featured “Wade in the Water,” the entry track off of the new record, and quickly segued into “Better Than” and “Tahitian Blue.” To aid in developing different textures for the songs during the set, Butler switched between his 12-string guitar, banjo, pedal steel and a few 6-string guitars, each adding a different complexion to the music.

On the title track to the new record, that was featured in the first half of the show, the band includes programmed drum textures, a new component to the sound of the John Butler Trio. While it adds to the palette of what the band has to offer musically, the tone of this material appeared to conflict with what the unit is best at executing in its heavy-driven acoustic element.  

Towards the middle of the set, Butler entered into an extended solo to feature his song “Ocean,” an acoustic instrumental prayer as he refers to it. This core component of the show is something that audiences have come to know Butler by, as the song dates back to his days busking on the streets of Fremantle prior to forming the Trio. Shortly following the solo piece, bassist Byron Luiters and drummer Grant Gerathy returned to the stage to join Butler. Armed now with his banjo, the band followed with “Ragged Mile,” off of the 2010 release April Uprising.  

Closing the evening with a two-song encore, the Trio launched into “Funky Tonight,” off of its album Grand National and “Zebra” off of the 2004 album Sunrise Over Sea.  At this point, vocal participation from the audience was at a peak, with a call and response during the second of the two songs. Showing tremendous thanks to the fans, his bandmates, and crew, Butler addressed the room and emphasized how the performance is truly a collaborative effort. Look out for the John Butler Trio to continue its tour across North America through the middle of December before returning to its home country in early 2019.

Photo by Kane Hibberd

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