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 Butch Walker: The Melody Genie
The Metro - Chicago, IL 8/3/06

by Anthony Kuzminski

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She sings all the words to my hidden tracks

From my heart of a record, far as I can tell

Sounds like heaven and feels good as hell

Inside the walls of the legendary Metro club in Chicago, the temperature is well over 100 degrees and can be best demonstrated by the sweaty soaked-to-the-skin fans and the saturated walls drenched with condensation. Halos of light emanated from the stage as the band members took their places before their leader, Butch Walker, unleashed a blissful jet wailing riff sending the near sold out club into a frenzy. Two years ago, Butch Walker was merely a name, today he's one of a handful of artists I watch with a careful eye. His talents are infinite, wide and vastly underappreciated. As lethal as he may be as a hired gun producing records for everyone imaginable (Pink, Avril Lavigne, Bowling For Soup, American Hi-Fi, Puffi-Yumi, Pete Yorn, Hot Hot Heat, All American Rejects and SR-71) it's his own songs which resonate strongest with me, not just for their sprawling production but because of the intense emotion with which they're performed. 

I've seen Walker's audience triple in Chicago over the last twenty-four months however, despite the catchiness of his records, live is where it's at. When I first heard "The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's Go Out Tonites!" it didn't resonate with me. There are usually two types of albums; those that mature over time and those that collect dust on your shelf. It's still too early for me to give you a final verdict; however I'm feeling this one has legs. Despite my reservations, I told myself I would wait and see how it sounded live. 

Never one to settle into complacency, Walker's current tour is finding him trying to shake things up. Two platforms near the front of the stage have been added, which light up and are accentuated by smoke giving the small club the feel of a theater or arena. The stage was full with his four-piece band and the addition of two backing female singers (who did their best go-go dancing impersonations during "Lights Out"). When the sledgehammer riff from "Hot Girls In Good Moods" lifted off, my reservations about the album slowly began to evaporate as Walker electrified the audience with his best (according to Steve Van Zandt) Marc Bolan impersonation. If one were to judge the artist Butch Walker based solely on his albums they would only be seeing a small portion of the picture. My wife says it best, "His albums merely make you reminisce for his concerts". When Walker hits the concert stage, he's as charismatic as any front man in the business including Bono, Steven Tyler and Mick Jagger. He exudes confidence and the willingness to please his audience in any way imaginable. 

Walker's new album has character and it's not as easily digestible on a first listen as his previous efforts have been. Despite this, "Ladies & Gentlemen…The Let's Go Out Tonites", "Bethamphetamine (Pretty Pretty)", "Taste of Red" & ""Too Famous To Get Fully Dressed" are all stronger in concert with the intensity of the performance brought the swirling grooves to the forefront. I respect Walker for making albums he wants to make, which ironically sound better when performed in a live setting. For someone who has made a name for himself with a gleaming pop sound, it's under the sweaty lights where Walkers true colors shine through. Today's artists have a hard time building a fan base to consistently tour because their albums are so over polished that when they hit the concert stage, they fall on their faces. While his efforts to spice up his stage show are honorable, the truth is he doesn't need it. His fans love him fanatically and will follow him to the ends of the Earth. As long as he continually gives 110% at every show, he could be performing in a bathroom stall and people will fork over their money to see him.

Despite the raw energy brought to the new material, it was his older material that radiated strongest with the crowd. "#1 Summer Jam" and "Maybe It's Just Me" were perfectly placed early in the set, eliciting fervent responses from the crowd whose singing is so loud, it drowns out Butch's vocals. The golden harmonies of "Don't Move" and "Mixtape" dazzled the fired up audience and despite being played hundreds of times, these songs are still growing and evolving with each emotional performance. One of the tests of working for the legendary Clive Davis is you have to bring him a song that could be covered by another artist and become a hit. If I had fifteen-minutes with Clive, I'd probably play him these two songs as they continue to resonate live and should have been enormous hits and potentially could be for someone else. The middle of the show did find a few surprises and some moments that proved to me that while the commercial cycles of his past albums have come and gone, they are continuing to expand and surprise audiences. 

The Marvelous 3 song "Indie Queen" was the most appreciated moment of the evening as 1,100 jaws were flapping incessantly to this forgotten and under performed fan favorite. Much of the Marvelous 3 material is overlooked and should be let out of their cages on a more regular basis with certain songs rotating in and out of the set list. The piano set was predictable at first with faithful concert renditions of "Diary of a San Fernando Sex Starr" and "Joan" and as he began to hit the keys on the piano for "Cigarette Lighter Love Song", I began to feel he was treading on uncreative ground. This song has been part of the piano set for as long as he's been solo, but about half way through the song, the band made their way to the stage and segued into the song giving a full band effort. While it was blasting throughout the club, my wife reminded me of how she always says this song reminds her of the David Bowie penned "All The Young Dudes", something she has been mentioning to me since we first heard the song two-years ago. The first concert I took her to was a David Bowie, knowing she loved the charismatic chameleon. Walker is a self-professed Bowie fanatic as well (just look at the title of his most recent album), but neither of us were ready for what happened next as the band segued from "Cigarette…" right into "All The Young Dudes". Walker's clever arrangements keep his fans coming back time and time again. His ability to slowly build songs into climactic crescendos has the audience eating out of his hands. No stage lights, props or backing vocalists can replace this. 

If one leaves after the main set of a Butch Walker show, they miss out on the evenings most energetic moments. The band returned to the stage to perform an off the wall rendition of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy". All a concert needs to take it to that next level is one moment for the crowd to grab on to; tonight, this was it. I'll keep my fingers crossed that this version makes its way to iTunes as it was off the hook. "Lights Out" brought the house down as usual, which found Walker in the crowd mashing it up with them but it was the gentle "When Canyons Ruled The City" that brought the evening to a close. When I first heard this song performed live last fall, I loved it immediately, however, when the new album came out, this was the only song I kept on returning to and I began to wonder whether Butch made the best album he could have? After sitting with the album for well over a month and now seeing many of these songs performed live, I appreciate it far more than I thought I would. I lost ten pounds of sweat watching Walker practically kill himself as the 1,100 patrons had an evening they wouldn't soon forget. Butch Walker is one of the most enigmatic performers to grace concert stages over the last few years and there is no doubt the man gives 110% in each and every one of his performances. 

As "When Canyons Ruled…" faded out, each member of the band exited the stage as Butch conducted the crowd sing-a-long until he finally disappeared into the shadows leaving a hot crowd in a more than a good mood…but an ecstatic one. 

Tell me how to not love a hot girl in a good mood

-"Hot Girls In A Good Mood" 


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