When Butch Walker took the stage at Chicago’s Bottom Lounge late Monday evening, ready to ring in the New Year with a raucous crowd of fans (many of them aided and abetted by the ticket’s “open bar” provision), it was clear that the 42-year-old singer/songwriter was doing pretty well. He was all alone for the first few minutes, reprising the a cappella version of “Cigarette Lighter Love Song” that opened shows on his tour last fall, and as the set went forward, “reprisal” became a fairly good word to describe the proceedings. For me, the set was fairly familiar and straightforward, beginning with the usual dose of intimacy (“Cigarette Lighter” segued into a solo piano performance of the emotive ballad “Joan”) and then transitioning into a typical post-2008 Butch Walker show. Aside from the opening duo and a late-set inclusion of the sarcastic ditty that is “Race Cars & Goth Rock,” tonight’s line-up was culled almost exclusively from Walker’s last three records. That meant that the one-two punch of “Going Back/Going Home” and “Closer to the Truth and Further From the Sky” (the signature songs from 2008’s Sycamore Meadows, arguably Butch’s signature release) was well in place as the transition between the show-opening solo set and full-band blow-out began.
“Closer to the Truth” saw the entrance of Walker’s team for the night, a gang that included bassist Jake Sinclair (a fixture of Walker’s backing band, the Black Widows), drummer Stacy Jones (the frontman for American Hi-Fi), and Renaissance man Chris Thacker (who handled everything from auxiliary guitar to piano to mandolin). Butch himself seemed well-equipped for the New Year’s Eve party atmosphere, opting for an electric guitar rather than an acoustic for the entirety of the show, and scorching his way through proven crowd-pleasers like “Dublin Crow,” “The Weight of Her,” “She Likes hair Bands,” “Synthesizers,” “Summer of ’89,” and especially “3 Kids in Brooklyn.” Credit Walker’s most recent record, the 2011 rock ‘n’ roll revival of The Spade, for much of the infectious energy. That record was, quite simply, made to be played live, and an occasion like this one only rendered those songs more electric.
But while Walker’s ability to rock the house was in full supply on New Year’s Eve, the most special thing about this show (and about the nearly identical one Walker played at Chicago’s Double Door the night before) was the appearance of three new songs. Butch and the Black Widows went down to Nashville to write and record a new album at the tail end of November, and the progress they’ve made is promising, to say the least. Walker has never shied away from his country influences, especially on more recent records, but these three songs show a deeper enthrallment into folk and southern rock than anything he’s done so far. Butch rolled out the best of the new songs early, a backwoods country romp called “Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To” that he wrote about his relationship with his aging father. Prefaced by a lengthy introduction (where Butch actually called his parents to say hello), “Let It Go” burst with affection and energy, building to a readymade sing-along chorus that was nothing short of transcendent.
And singing along was definitely the name of the game with this latest batch of tunes. Always a proponent of audience participation (the nah-nah-nah chorus of his career-defining “When the Canyons Ruled the City” marked it as of the greatest encore songs of all time), Walker paraded out a pair of future fan favorites that allowed for just that. The first one, “I’ve Been Waiting for This,” rivaled “Canyons” in shout-along capability (and in twangy classicism), while the second, “End of the World,” positioned the crowd around a searing, southern-rock-meets-hair-metal guitar lick. Where “Let It Go” represented a full-on immersion into the Nashville scene, these two songs played as a more retrospective collision of where Walker has come from and where he’s going. With both, we can hear pieces of his past, from the freak-power-pop of his Marvelous 3 days to the glammy rock ‘n’ roll of 2006’s The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Lets-Go-Out-Tonites! If the rest of the new album--which should drop this spring or summer--is this exciting, Butch could be headed back for Album of the Year territory.
Cigarette Lighter Love Song
Going Back/Going Home
Closer to the Truth and Further From the Sky
Closest Thing to You I’m Gonna Find
Let It Go Where It’s Supposed To
The Weight of Her
I’ve Been Waiting For This
NEW YEAR’S COUNTDOWN - Auld Lang Syne
Race Cars and Goth Rock
She Likes Hair Bands
Summer of ‘89
End of the World
The 3 Kids in Brooklyn