[LIVE REVIEW] Butch Walker @ Northcote Social Club, Melbourne 25/01/2019

When I heard that Butch Walker was finally coming to Australia for a solo tour, I momentarily lost my breath with excitement and knew that I would be there, no matter where in the country I had to travel. Of course, there was no gig booked for my hometown of Adelaide, so I immediately booked flights to Melbourne and hoped that this night would eventuate. The thought of seeing Butch live and solo in Australia initially seemed a little surreal to me.  

For those who are unacquainted with Butch Walker, here’s a quick catch-up for you. Butch initially came to my attention as guitarist in ‘hair-metal’ band Southgang in the late 80s/early 90s. Although I personally loved this era and a lot of these bands, it wasn’t until Southgang disbanded and Butch fronted his 90s band Marvellous 3 that I became a fan.

It was twenty years ago, at the Evelyn Hotel in Melbourne (immediately following an appearance on iconic variety show Hey Hey it’s Saturday) that I first saw Butch live. This Marvellous 3 gig is still one of my favourite gigs that I’ve ever been to and a lot of the reason for this is due to the talent and charisma of Butch Walker. I became a huge fan on that night and have remained so ever since.

After 3 albums, Marvellous 3 went their separate ways and Butch went solo, going on to release 8 full-length studio albums, a couple of live albums, and a host of EPs so far.

As well as being a charismatic performer, Butch is also an amazing songwriter. Not only does Butch write fantastic songs for himself, but he’s also an in-demand producer/songwriter in the US for other artists. Even if you have never heard of Butch Walker, it would be unlikely that you’ve never heard his songs on the radio. Just a small selection of the artists Butch has worked with includes Panic! At the Disco, Fall Out Boy, P!nk, Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, All Time Low…and the list goes on.

Northcote Social Club: I was really impressed with the choice of venue for this show. The band room was a very nice intimate venue with a stage and lighting set-up that would have looked just as in-place in a much bigger venue with a bar running alongside the room which serviced the punters nicely, without the crush and chaos you can get with a less thought out design.

Sydney’s Josh Paul opened the night, warming the crowd up with a laid-back acoustic set. His songs felt very personal and heartfelt and the crowd responded by giving him their undivided attention. It was nice to see an original acoustic performance getting the attention that it deserved on a busy Friday night in a bar. Josh came across as quite personable and charismatic, which I’m sure won him a few more fans and which made him a great choice of support act for this particular gig.

It wasn’t very long after Josh finished his set that Butch appeared on stage with his guitar. I was curious to know how this set would be configured. Would Butch be appearing on his own with just a guitar? Would he have a full band in tow? How would he go entertaining a potentially rowdy crowd for a full set with just his guitar? Would he be playing laid-back songs for the whole set? All was about to be revealed.

Butch opened the show with a couple of fairly mellow tunes from his 2015 album Afraid of Ghosts and right away I knew this was going to be a special gig. Right from the start, Butch had everyone transfixed on him and captivated in silence. In the packed room, I looked around and didn’t see one camera phone on. Nobody had their phones over their heads, watching the gig through their screens. Everyone was paying full attention to the performance coming from the stage and watching with their own eyes.

As the set went on, Butch played a range of songs covering his solo career, starting on the guitar, and then momentarily moving over to the keyboard for a few tunes including 2008’s piano ballad Atlanta, before moving back to the guitar once again. Butch commented on more than one occasion how respectful the audience was being as they listened intently to the songs, hanging on his every word between songs, but then making plenty of noise in appreciation in between, as well as making plenty of noise singing along. One early song in the set that received a huge response and a big crowd sing-a-long was the early solo hit Mixtape from Butch’s second album Letters. After quite a laid-back start to the set, Butch brought out LA-based producer/muso Todd Stopera for some extra guitar and percussion as the two combined to play parts of a disassembled drum-kit for the rest of the set.

From here, with Todd’s input, the intensity went up a notch, as the sound now more closely resembled that of a full band.

Some of the up-tempo highlights for me included the crowd participation favourites Stay Gold from Butch’s latest album of the same name, and Summer of 89 which included an amusing version of Bryan Adams’ Summer of 69 intro. 2015’s Bed on Fire was another highlight, which was particularly intense.

After the main set was done, Butch returned to the stage for an encore, which he announced would be a few Marvellous 3 songs, which went down really well with the crowd, who likely would have mostly been introduced to Butch through the M3 hit Freak of the Week back in ’98. For this part of the set, Dave Leslie, guitarist from The Baby Animals entered the stage to join the band. It turns out he’s a huge Marvellous 3 fan as he was singing along to every word as he played along on guitar. For the aforementioned hit song, a super-fan with a Marvellous 3 tattoo was brought up to help with vocals. It was obvious he wasn’t exactly a singer as such but it was a fun addition to the festivities nonetheless.

To close out the show, Butch stripped the show back to just him on guitar, ending the show as it began, with a couple of low-key recent tunes. He once again mentioned the respectful audience, pointing out that in the US, he couldn’t go back to playing acoustic songs at the end of the set because by then everyone would be drunk and yelling over the top of him.  To be honest, I would have expected that here in Australia too, but it just goes to show you the charisma and stage presence that Butch Walker has. For the entire show, he commanded everyone’s attention. He delivered an amazing vocal performance, kept everybody mesmerised, seemingly hanging on his every word and lyric the whole time he was up on the stage and when the house lights came on after he left, there was still a happy buzz in the room that he left behind.

After so much anticipation for this gig, I certainly was not disappointed one bit and I really hope that Butch doesn’t leave it another twenty years to visit us again.

Review Contributed by Kym Robey

Gallery By Lynda Buchanan