Words & Photos: Zach Stone
The John Butler Trio blew my mind.
It's that feeling when after pursuing live music actively for over a decade, something that was hiding in plain sight comes rushing into focus.
Kicking off their set with "Cold Wind" from their 2014 album Flesh + Blood, Butler noted that Nicky Bomba is currently filling in on drums as Grant Gerathy preparing for first-time fatherhood. It was a bit like the old days, as Nicky was once an official member of the band.
While baseball may not be quite as prominent in Butler's home country of Australia, he and the band attended the Cubs game the day prior. After purchasing some new apparel, a joke about wearing some on stage actually became a reality. Nicky was rocking that Cubbie Blue while holding down the beats.
As far as musical tourism, Butler also mentioned checking out the iconic Chicago Jazz club Green Mill -- and the loose and classic vibe of the club was apparent in the Ravinia set, despite the contrast between venues.
By the second song, "Betterman", everyone in the crowd was clapping and into it, not unlike the jazzheads at the mill. Butler expertly uses his long fingernails as picks, showing off these skills on some bluegrass influenced tunes early in the set.
His personality and skill at engaging the audience were evident when introducing a new song called "Bully" -- a song "heavy" in content.
"Bullying mindset is currently destroying our beautiful planet," he proclaimed. He went on to explain how corporations are taking advantage of Australia and came out against fracking.
Butler switched guitars or grabbed another instrument for nearly every song. At one point, the band left its leader on stage by himself, with only a ukelele. He requested the audience to not clap but to pray for him as he began looping "Revolution". Despite this, an error was made and he smoothly made light of the buttons on his looper.
The popular climactic instrumental "Ocean" was next on his very worn twelve-string acoustic guitar, tapping beats delicately on its body in between quickly picked notes. The sounds he manages to produce from a single instrument suggests alien rather than Australian. The over twelve-minute acoustic instrumental got a standing ovation from the crowd as the trio came back out to join him on yet another hit, "Used to Get High" -- its improvised bass solo and drum break yielding yet another standing ovation.
Butler was clearly feeling the energy.
With one more song before the encore, Butler makes a quick request. He'd like everyone in the audience to stand up and sing along to "Zebra"
The crowd went wild.
It was perhaps the most energetic demand for an encore I've ever seen. Butler, alone and with a six-string acoustic performed "How you Sleep at Night" before the band then joins him for "Living in the City" (normally played solo).
Everyone was clapping along to "Funky Tonight", after wrestling a meaty two hour set out of the band.
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