By the time headliners, the John Butler Trio came to the stage, the Danforth Music Hall was packed to capacity. The Australian group has slowly built a solid following and can sell-out venues despite limited radio play in Canada. Fans who arrived early got to hear some homegrown talent in the form of Jon Bryant. The Nova Scotian joked that his band was the “other J.B. Trio” of the night. Flanked by drums and bass, Bryant took to the guitar and keyboard in turn, as he played his hypnotic brand of melodic rock.
When Butler’s band emerged, it was clear that “trio” was to be loosely interpreted, as there were five musicians on stage. Starting with a steady drumbeat and an acknowledgment of the native lands on which we all stood, the band kicked off their set with Wade in the Water. The band is tight and accomplished, but it’s Butler’s charisma that draws the eye. The music is hard to describe. Based in Roots-Rock music, their songs take on many flavours.
The songs were arranged to allow space for Butler to showcase his skill with strings. A banjo features heavily in some songs; others take on an almost prog rock vibe with long jams mid song and impressive guitar solos. The room came to a standstill when Butler was left alone on the stage, seated with two simple spotlights illuminating him from above. He played an instrumental piece called Ocean. The tune ebbs, flows, rages and trickles… it’s a mesmerizing piece of music and Butler delivered it with spellbinding intensity. The last few songs built up to We Want More, which aptly closed the main set.
The band left the stage for a nanosecond and then reappeared for its three song encore of Don’t Wanna See Your face, Funky Tonight and Zebra. Miraculously, they had more energy in them – playing at full tilt until the very last note.