John Butler Trio | 02.20 | San Francisco

Words by: Justin Gillett | Images by: Eric Lawson

John Butler Trio :: 02.20.10 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA

John Butler Trio :: 02.20.10 :: San Francisco, CA
Last year John Butler started a new chapter in his storied career with the induction of two new musicians into his Trio. The new lineup signaled a change for Butler, who had been playing with his longtime bandmates bassist Shannon Birchall and drummer Michael Barker since 2003. While changing the dynamics of the band must have been a decision that required a lot of thought on behalf of Butler, the move almost seems like it was necessary to keep the vitality of the Trio alive. The new guns Butler brought aboard, Byron Luiters (bass) and Nicky Bomba (drums), have given the Trio a much needed shot of energy. The different skills Luiters and Bomba bring with them has helped brighten the band's overall sound and remind people why, years ago, they fell in love with John Butler Trio in the first place.

Considering this was the Australian act's first North American tour to feature Luiters and Bomba, when they touched down at San Francisco's Great American Music Hall all three musicians seemed intent on proving themselves individually as well as validating the strength of the band's current incarnation.

It took a few songs for the band to truly lock in, but once they found the sweet spot the Trio was playing as tight as any previous incarnation of the band. Butler wailed on his assortment of guitars - using distorted effects to add an extra push to his acoustic solos – while Bomba kept impressive time on the drum kit. Opting to keep more of a focus on toms rather than cymbals, Bomba's playing had a distinct tribal quality and further contributed to the Trio's alternative roots rock sound.

John Butler Trio :: 02.20.10 :: San Francisco, CA
While it was refreshing to see Luiters start off the set with an upright bass (a mainstay of the Trio's old sound), he quickly changed to an electric four-string Fender Precision. Because the Trio's erstwhile bass player predominantly used an upright, the changing of instruments caught some people off guard who were not expecting piercing, metallic sounding electric bass tones. But Luiters' delicate touch and fondness for playing in a song's pocket worked well with the Trio's heady sound and furthered the band's new approach.

Though it was easy it get lost in some of the band's Afro rhythm melees, focus couldn't be shifted from Butler and his impressive manipulation of the various instruments he played. While he was positioned stage right, Butler's commanding demeanor and musical dexterity held the audience rapt as he shifted between six-string acoustic, banjo, 11-string acoustic (which is really just a 12-string model with the high G string removed), six-string electric and lap steel guitar. The way Butler changed guitar tones with his myriad of effects pedals further complimented his range and innovation as an instrumentalist. His intricate, ever changing sound was a testament to Butler's development since bursting on the scene back in the mid-90s.

As the show concluded it was apparent that Butler is now venturing into unknown territory with his new band and is in the process of truly embarking on a new musical path. He's come a long ways from busking on the streets in Western Australia, yet somehow Butler's enduring qualities remain intact. John Butler proved with this San Francisco show that he doesn't need to turn his back on his roots to grow and evolve as a musician.

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