Here's a rundown of JBT's show in Bend on Tuesday night. We're still trying to get some video and pics up here ... bear with us, they'll be up soon.
We hadn't made it out to a show at the Athletic Club of Bend yet this summer, but we'd heard a thing or two about how shows go down at this venue. Rumors have graced our ears of draconian no standing/no dancing decrees, picket fences segregating VIPS from general admission peasants and a smattering of other no-fun policies.
So, one can understand why we had our guard up when we arrived at the ACB last night to see the John Butler Trio drop into Bend for the second time in a matter of nine months. But after JBT's fellow Australians Crash Symphony opened the show and Butler walked onto the stage much of the crowd (the one's who weren't sipping wine from Eddie Bauer coolers) STOOD UP, in direct violation of the rumored rules. By the time John Butler shouldered his banjo and blasted out "Better Than," these standing folks had charged the stage, flooding what we thought was the "reserved section" and for the next two hours, it was a real-live rock concert. And the best part...no security or venue management personnel did anything to stop it.
In front of what seemed to be a packed lawn full of a smattering of fans and middle-aged Bendites who had no idea who JBT was, the East Australia band got the night started by playing songs from their 2007 album Grand National. At first it seemed even devoted fans didn't recognize the dread-less Butler until he picked up his guitar. In truth, to say Butler is "dread-less" isn't wholly accurate - while his hair is relatively close cropped, a few thin dreads remain, one of which stands up on end like an antenna into which the ideas for Butler's quirky stage banter are beamed from the mothership circling above.
Then drummer Michael Barker and bassist Shannon Birchall (who has his own fan appreciation club) left the stage and Butler picked up his 12-string, made a brief political statement about the earth being round (groundbreaking! check out the video below for a good chunk of the rant), and got right into "Ocean." If you weren't impressed by Butler's guitar skill before this song, you had to have been blind and deaf to have not been impressed after he was finished. Using some loop effects, but mostly his own guitar mastery, Butler raced up and down the fret board creating a range of sounds as wide as the body of water for which the song is named.
During another one of Butler's Eddie Vedder-with-half-an-Australian-accent pieces of stage banter, he said something along the lines of "I was a little nervous to hear we were playing at a country club and then when we got here, there were seats, and I'm OK with that, but there were these fences, too. And I thought we were going to have a motherf***ing revolution here!"
Thus the absence of fences presumably made a bit more sense. We highly doubt folks would have kicked down the fence (as over-testosteroned Stone Temple Pilots fans did at the Schwab a week earlier) but sectioning off the entire front of the stage definitely wouldn't have added much to Butler's funky rock show. JBT got into some older songs from their "Sunrise Over Sea" album before heading offstage early, then Butler appeared back onstage for a solo performance of "Peaches and Cream," a song originally written for his daughter, that he dedicated to his family who tours with him, then the rest of the trio returned to the stage for "Zebra" and a racing version of "Funky Tonight" which always brings down the house. It was a solid set, even if he didn't dish out standards like "Daniella," "Take" and "Betterman."
As this season ACB virgins, we think we held it together pretty well at the JBT concert Tuesday night. We didn't (openly) mock the 50 year olds playing air guitar and doing some sort of hoedown dance to "Funky Tonight" and did not act on our urges to karate chop the hoard of drunken middle-aged men who kept blocking our view of the stage. Even with apprehension running thick in the air at the beginning of the show, JBT proved one of the best performances of the outdoor summer season - a certainly the most surprising show in a long while.