The venue was filled from floor to balcony, clearly signaling JBT's growing popularity in the U.S. Back in Australia, they are an award-winning, multi-platinum selling act, though they've yet to become a household name in the States. If their live show is any indication, however, it won't be too long before that all changes. According to Butler, this was their first performance in St. Louis, and local fans couldn't get enough of their high-energy sound.
John Butler Trio cannot be easily pegged into one specific genre - which is one of the best things about them. While generally falling somewhere on the rock spectrum, they exhibit strong influences of reggae, blues, folk, roots rock and world music as well. It's a blend that's not only pleasing to the ears, but also touches the listener on a more primal level.
At its center is Butler's unique and simply incredible guitar style. He mainly focuses on amplified acoustic guitars, both six-string and a custom-made 11-string, with and without slide, highlighted by a myriad of electronic effects, to create a sound that echoes many of his heroes while remaining all his own. In addition to the acoustics, throughout the show, Butler also rotated between a hollow body electric, a Fender Telecaster and a banjo. With the skill-level and unique sound he exhibits, I would easily place him alongside some of the greatest guitarists I've ever seen.
Though Butler takes most of the spotlight, pulling equal weight are Luiters, who at times played both bass and keyboards simultaneously as well as stand-up bass, and Gerathy, whose drumming ranged from funky reggae rhythms to tribal world beats to all-out hard rock banging. Sometimes with a three-piece band it can feel like something is missing; but JBT spills forth such a rich, full, textured sound that it's often hard to believe there aren't six or seven people on stage.
Complementing the guitar acrobatics and groovy rhythms is Butler's wonderfully deep, smooth and perfectly on pitch voice, that alternately soars and softly groans. No slouches themselves, Luiters and Gerathy add rich harmonies.
JBT highlighted a number of tunes from their new album, including soft and sweet ballad "Bullet Girl," "Only One," dreamy "Young and Wild," politically-charged "How You Sleep At Night," and funky "Livin' in the City." Butler picked up the Fender Telecaster for standout track "Blame it On Me," adding psychedelic voice and guitar effects and ending with a face-melting, Hendrix-esque solo.
In addition to the new material, JBT treated fans to a number of favorites from past albums. Upbeat, vengeful "Don't Wanna See Your Face" had fans bouncing and joining in the chorus, "You think I love you; you think I need you; damn no, get out the door; I don't wanna see your face no more." On the opposite end of the lyrical spectrum was "I'd Do Anything," Butler crooning in a sexy growl, "You tell me what you want, girl; you tell me what you need ... I'd do anything to be with you."
Butler strapped on the banjo and Luiters moved to stand up bass for the brief, foot-stomping "Hoe Down" intro to JBT's most recognizable tune, "Better Than," which had the entire audience clapping and singing along.
Luiters and Gerathy left the stage as Butler sat down for lengthy and astounding instrumental solo, "Ocean," shifting back and forth between soft plucking to trippy effects to full-bore shredding at the end.
JBT closed the main set with another hit, "Zebra," eliciting a lengthy call-and-response segment from the audience, who more than willingly participated.
After a brief break, Butler returned to the stage alone. He thanked the audience, giving an obligatory nod to St. Louis being the home of Chuck Berry before playing sweet love song "Peaches and Cream." They closed the show with aptly titled "Funky Tonight" with Luiters again on stand up bass picking along with Butler as the crowd on the dance floor jumped up and down feverishly until the very last note.
Having never seen John Butler Trio before, but as an admirer of the band's studio work for some time, I went to this show fully expecting I'd enjoy it. What I didn't expect was that it would turn out to be one of the best shows I've seen this year. As with many great bands, recordings simply cannot match the live experience. Being as JBT resides halfway around the world, the opportunities to see them may be few and far between; but when they do come back around, I certainly wouldn't miss it.