Butch Walker at The Great American Music Hall
I’m am forever in awe of people that can take a stage and captivate an audience with just their voice and an instrument. It’s a strange kind of voodoo that happens – a mass hypnosis really. But it’s why we go to see these live shows. It’s because of this connection (for lack of a better word) that we cannot experience anywhere else. All we can do is take our places in anticipation for something to happen, never quite sure that it will – and then the artist we paid good money to see takes the stage. And it’s magic.
I first heard Butch Walker back when he was in a band called Marvelous 3. They wrote catchy songs with amazing hooks and interesting lyrics that were dripping with unusual depth and sarcasm; I became an instant fan. Butch Walker might be one of the main reasons I am so passionate about lyrics. He’s also the reason that I want to pull the hairs out of my head when someone tells me that they don’t listen to the words of a song, they listen to music for *gasp* the beat.
I know that music isn’t everyone’s thing. Music is my drug, but lyrics are constantly becoming a part of my evolving lifelong philosophy to find meaning. Because “it’s all about culture and art, but the truth of is that it rips me apart…”
Before I saw him at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, It had been several years since I last went to a Butch Walker concert. The last time I saw him play was in Pomona, CA to a half capacity audience on a week night. This was post Marvelous 3 Butch Walker who walked onto the stage and seemed content to just play no matter how many people were or weren’t there. And boy did he put on a show. A few years later I’m on the phone with Stephen Christian of Anberlin and talking about their new album Dark is the Way, Light is a Place and I bring up Butch Walker, who worked with him a few years earlier, and he implored, “..if anybody has ever seen his live show, oh my gosh, just mind boggling. That guy is a genius, not only a great writer, but just a great performer.” I get giddy whenever I run into someone that even knows who Butch is…the best kept secret in music (that shouldn’t be a secret).
The show in San Francisco is at the tail end of his current tour. If you saw the set list, you knew that you were in for a subdued and maybe even slow paced show. He’s touring off his new album Afraid of Ghosts – a tribute album of sorts dedicated to his father. Much of the album is somber and introspective. When Butch takes the stage it’s a very different Butch from the one I watched in Pomona. There is no band. The stage is nearly empty save a piano, a few guitars and a bass drum. Like I said at the beginning of this, I am forever in awe of people that can take a stage and captivate an audience with just their voice and an instrument. The concert is a very eclectic blend of old and new songs that feature mostly Butch playing on just a piano or a guitar exclusively (and maybe an occasional backup singer) to fill in the spaces. As he plays his set list – the experience this time was like being a very emotional story about his life as an artist and his relationship with his now deceased father. While there were many light moments, the overarching story is one that left the audience waiting to exhale as he ends the show by playing the songs his father loved the most. It’s an emotional ride I haven’t experienced since seeing the Civil Wars in concert (back when they were a thing). As the lights come up there is not a dry eye in the house. It’s been a while since I’ve felt that thing that happens in the air – that connection between performer and the audience. You know it when you feel it, but there’s no way to ever capture it otherwise. It can only be described as a strange magic that eventually fades, sadly.
As I write this I know that you’re not going to care about Butch’s music quite the same way that I do. And that’s okay. I can only hope that you find your own experiences and favorite artists. Now roll up your sleeves, dig into their lyrics and wrestle with what they were really trying to say with their songs. I hope whatever it is that you find amazes you and leaves you as awestruck as I often am when I do the same.