I’ve been a fan of John Butler for years. He’s on my very short personal list of favorite guitarists ever, and someone who has heavily influenced me as both a musician, and a songwriter. So when I finally got to see him perform live on a hot summer night in Central Park, I knew I was in for a treat. As my first Central Park SummerStage show of the season, I was expecting nothing less than a solid, intimate set by one of music’s most talented former street buskers in my own back yard.
After a great opening set from Mr. Allen Stone, myself and 4,000 other fans were getting anxious and ready for John to take the stage. The temperature was hot, the lights were bright, the amps were buzzing, and the joints were lit. The only thing missing was the man of the hour, and when he took the stage with a simple wave and a ‘How ya doing’, we were all off and running.
During his almost two-hour set, John and his trio of musicians who were as talented and energetic as their leader, blazed through a set mixed with new songs off his new album Flesh & Blood and old classics that the entire crowd could sing along to. Some of the early favorites in the set included ‘I Used to Get High’, ‘I’d Do Anything’, and the first single off the new album- ‘Only One’.
“This song is about having that friend in your life who can call you a dickhead, and you know he’s right” John joked as he went into the single. It’s that kind of attitude that keeps John down here on earth, almost like a guitarist of the people. For someone who routinely jams with contemporaries like Dave Matthews and Keith Urban, his laid back and non-stuck up celebrity attitude is what makes him such a favorite among the fans that come out to see him. That, and the fact that he still goes out every night and wows everyone with one of the best guitar instrumentals ever.
Like most John Butler fans I’ve seen all the videos of him playing ‘Ocean’ live, aka his 5th Symphony, but he still managed to wow me like it was the first time I’d ever heard him play it. Maybe it’s the incredible finger picking or the ability to make the multi-riff song so catchy with nothing more than a mix of good melodies and a foot stomp and occasional guitar tap for the rhythm.
As the night continued John carried on with more favorites such as ‘Better Than’, ‘Don’t Wanna See Your Face’, ‘Devil Woman’, and coming out for a solo encore with his beautiful acoustic piece in ‘Losing You’. The band closed out the night with an incredibly fun version of ‘Funky Tonight’, and as I left the venue I couldn’t imagine not having just experienced what I just did. A great songwriter, fantastic showman, and a fucking brilliant guitarist all rolled into one just threw a party for a few thousand beer drinking, pot smoking, dancing knuckleheads like myself, on a school night I might add, and I got to experience it all on a beautiful summer night in NYC’s Central Park. I had high expectations going into my first John Butler show, and who else other than Johnny to rise up and exceed all of them.
Article by Tom Shackleford