Having spent the last two-and-half years living in a regional city, I’ve come to appreciate how much of a big deal it is when a well-known musical act comes to play in your backyard. Not only do they save you a two hour drive to the city, but they create a buzz around town and go some way to filling your unfairly-depleted live music fix.
Hence, Shepparton came alive for the night and the Eastbank Centre was packed out as the country’s biggest blues and roots star John Butler held court as part of his Tin Shed Tales solo tour. I had only previously seen Butler play with his ever-changing trio in various locations around Melbourne – so I was curious to see how he would fare on his own.
Support act Felicity Groom didn’t do too much for me – but then again, I’m not much of a folk music lover. Those who are into that kind of thing would have enjoyed her set – as the WA songstress played stripped-back versions of songs from her EP Treasures. She also took a note from Butler’s book and complimented her tunes with a series of interesting stories about each song prior to playing them.
Twenty minutes later, and with a big stomp in his shoes from side of stage, John Butler enthusiastically waltzed onto the stage. From the moment he picked up one of his guitars, sat down and greeted the crowd, you could tell that this show was going to be personal and live up to its intimate nature (even though the room was filled with around 800 people).
The setlist naturally stretched across the biggest moments in his career – and more so – his life. Key album tracks like Losing You (from 2007′s Grand National) and Gone (from 2010′s April Uprising) were placed alongside hits such as Pickapart, Zebra and Revolution, both of which were given extra spark and a new feel with the aid of pedals and a kickbox.
However, what set this show apart was not only the music, but Butler’s funny banter and superb storytelling in-between tracks. Whether it was a three-minute lesson on the basis of his new song Kimberley (inspired by the WA Government’s proposed $30 billion gas plant in the Kimberley region), urging us to appreciate the things around us with Better Than, or how inheriting his grandfather’s guitar and learning his grandma’s favourite song (Danny Boy) supposedly kept her alive, Butler bared his soul and the crowd took in every word.
With his storytelling captivating the crowd, it’s easy to forget that Butler is also a damn good guitarist. And what more fitting way to highlight that than closing with his epic 13-minute instrumental from his busking days in Fremantle - Ocean - which naturally gets a standing ovation. It ends a classy and uplifting performance from one of Australia’s best male artists – one that those who witnessed it will most likely treasure – and one that regional towns like Shepparton deserve to see more of. Much love and respect to you, John Butler, for letting us into your world – and putting it on display far and wide as well.
John Butler will be releasing a double live CD from his Tin Shed Tales tour later this month. For more information on the release click here.