Friday, May 29, 2009
Almost two years since he lost everything to a Malibu wildfire, producer, and singer/songwriter Butch Walker returned to his surrogate home of Los Angeles to pay his fans a much needed visit. After canceling the last two scheduled shows in the city of angels, Walker played the El Rey Theatre Friday night to a packed house of friends, family, hardcore fans, and the occasional hipster or two. Walker is known for his intensely raw performances, complete with devilish grins and broken guitar strings, and Friday’s set was no exception. Even riding on the release of his latest and most mellow record to date, Sycamore Meadows, Walker delivered a solid two-hour set followed by a two-song encore that literally left fans screaming for “one more song!”
Instead of his usual electric opener with a full band, big choruses, and soaring guitars, Walker started off on the keys with an acoustic rendition of “ATL,” a tribute to his hometown of Atlanta. The audience seemed a bit confused by the choice at first, but quickly shifted their attention away from their drinks and onto the scraggly-haired singer stage left. Walker also played “Cigarette Lighter Love Song”—from his days in the Marvelous 3—in the same acoustic fashion before stepping up from the keyboard and strapping on his guitar. The remainder of the evening saw Walker strumming an acoustic, which was the driving force on Sycamore Meadows; a direction that left many fans wondering where their version of Mr. Walker had gone. Nonetheless, even the 12-string acoustic he sported halfway through the night seemed appropriate considering the record’s subdued, almost depressing themes.
After his short stint on keys, Walker’s band joined him onstage for the Springsteen-inspired, “Closer To The Truth and Farther From The Sky.” He began the song acoustically with just his guitar, and as the band came out to take their places on stage, the song built into an explosion of sound at the chorus. A slew of other new tunes from Meadows followed, including his most popular singles to date, “The Weight of Her,” and “Here Comes The…” which features friend and fellow songwriter Pink. Throughout his set, Walker played eight of the thirteen songs on Meadows, which proved to be much more entertaining live than they are via CD, iPod, or radio. Unfortunately, it seems as though the energy and passion Walker exudes during a live show just can’t be captured via recording, especially one that’s dominated by acoustic guitars and gut wrenching stories of loss. Thankfully, however, the sadness on Meadows was nowhere to be found Friday night. Walker seemed in high spirits, joking about being “too buzzed” and poking fun at his guitarist, Frank’s, mustache. He seemed truly happy to be playing to a crowd full of fans, and the audience only fed off that energy. Inebriated fans all around belted out the lyrics with their fists in the air and drinks in their hands. Another tribute to Atlanta, “Ponce De Leon Ave.” had everyone dancing, thanks to a little help from the horn section of Jimmy Kimmel’s house band, and other highlights of the night included the fan favorite, “Race Cars and Goth Rock,” as well as old staples like, “Far Away From Close,” “Don’t Move,” and “Maybe It’s Just Me.”
Walker closed the show with “Best Thing You Never Had,” and then came back out for an encore featuring “Hot Girls In Good Moods,” and “When Canyons Ruled The City.” He finally pulled out an electric guitar for “Hot Girls,” which made the crowd go wild, and when he jumped down into the audience during the bridge, fans swarmed around him, tousling his hair and pulling at his clothes. The energy during “Hot Girls” was insane, and the song proved to be the perfect way to round out the show.
The highlight of the night had to be the final song, “When Canyons Ruled The City”. The metaphorical tribute to the Hollywood hills is an eclectic sing-a-long complete with a wordless chorus that boasts two part harmonies for maximum audience participation. Along with his band, Walker was joined by all the members of the night’s opening acts, Ponderosa and Shovels and Rope, who led the audience in a massive sing-a-long. One of the greatest things about Walker is that he never tries to be a rock star. During every show he sings at least one song where he tells the audience, “I want to sing this song with you not to you,” and Friday night we all sang “Canyons” together. Even after his guests had left the stage, fans were screaming for Walker to play “one more song”. So after a final bow and a big “thank you” to everyone in the audience, Walker led the room in one final chorus from “Canyons” where the guys sang the “bop’s” and the girls belted out the “la’s.”
It was a night to remember. Filled with fan-favorites, and an energy that could only have been emitted by Walker himself. What made the night’s performance even better was that the usual “L.A. Crowd” was nowhere to be found at the El Rey because Walker’s shows really are about the music. There were no pretentious comments, disrespectful hecklers, or rowdy frat boys to ruin the vibe; only fans (new and old) and a few curious bystanders who saw the crowd and wandered up to the box office. This is what rock ‘n roll is all about people. Hopefully next time you hear the name Butch Walker, you’ll take the time to check out some of his tunes, or maybe even catch a show. I promise…you won’t be disappointed.