Songs heard in the grocery store or pharmacy are usually the ones you'd rather avoid. It was my luck, though, that radio in my one-time home of New Zealand let you wait in line and wish the queue would grow longer. When I heard "Zebra" by the John Butler Trio in the dressing room of a Glassons shop there, I was instantly swept away by the infectious beat, positive lyrics and soulful jam.
Anyone who attended the group's sold out concert at the High Noon Saloon Tuesday night knows that those words barely scratch the surface of the Aussie Butler and his group. This show was, as they say Down Under, "good as."
Positive energy burst off the stage, jumping and jiving on sunbeams of rock, jam, Cajun, dub, Indian, jazz, reggae and folk. John Butler is, like Prince, a wee, musically gifted man. The difference is that Prince makes you want to screw, but John Butler makes you want to make love -- with your partner, with the ocean, with a table... whatever.
Banjo, guitar and practically every other strummable instrument graced his lap, worked upon by fingernails that would make a tiger recoil. His singing, scatting, and rapid, intricate finger-style picking impressed, particularly on the breathtaking "Ocean." A blindfolded person would have been hard-pressed to guess how many instruments graced the stage -- the amount of sounds Butler conjured out of one instrument was astounding alone, but with the swell from the rest of the trio, a full orchestra might as well have lined the ceiling.
Michael Barker ripped it up on drums -- sounds poured from his kit like rushing waves, splashing out rock beats and steel, reggae tones. Like the strong, sulphuric odor that rises from the earth in Barker's hometown of Rotorua, New Zealand, Barker's percussion held a magical richness that seemed to emerge from beyond the belly of his drums.
Bassist Shannon Birchall harmonized crisply with Butler, all the while grinning like a fiend while playing bass and double bass. His sound was energetic -- a consistent heartbeat driving the body to move.
Each song conveyed purity and good intentions, and those positive lyrics promoted inclusion and peace. This message seemed to be understood by the crowd, which was a happy, friendly bunch of strangers. Even the merch/security/sound/bus drivers/etc. who Butler gave thanks to were congenial and kind to the audience.
Normally all this peace and love might seem trendy or hokey, but the glow from that stage was genuine. I am convinced that if more people listened to the John Butler Trio, the world would be a much more peaceful, joyous place.