John Butler doesn’t consider himself a public speaker, but many of his fans would disagree. Butler, frontman of the John Butler Trio, a jam band that mixes many styles and cultures, is known for being outspoken on social issues surrounding the environment and human rights. He consistently pays great respect to his Australian aboriginal roots, a respect that can be observed in the colours of the aboriginal flag hanging from his mic stand and in his thanking of the traditional owners of the land on which L’Astral stands when he first took the stage last Monday night. Although he is a man who speaks very fluidly, and with a wise social awareness, Butler has begun to let his music do the talking.
“I used to talk to a point where it was too much. I’m realizing that as I get older, as a musician what I say best is through my music. My basic mission is to leave the room and the city that I’ve entered vibrating at a higher level than before I entered it.”
This reflects a maturity that coincides with changes Butler has undergone while recording his fifth album, April Uprising. By no coincidence, April Uprising is scheduled to be released in April, shortly after Butler’s April Fool’s Day birthday.
The album is named after the 1876 revolution in Bulgaria, in which Butler’s great-great-grandfather fought. The title of the album’s first track, “Revolution,” aptly captures a sentiment that is not only currently circulating in the work of other musicians like Muse and Coldplay, but that also has a more intimate connection to the songwriter. Around the start of this album, Butler underwent a transformation that has shaped who he has become. He cut his dreads, changed his songwriting style, and welcomed a baby boy into the world. This gave cause for soul-searching and led him to question what it meant to be a man.
“All man represented to me was war, destruction, machoism, sexism, and things like that. I realized I was raising this young boy who’s going to become a man and I despised men,” explained Butler. “It was a really profound moment.”
It took embracing manhood in a way that he could understand, in a respectful and empowering way, to come to terms with his gender and to truly become a man himself, “as opposed to just a young man, or a man in denial.”
He reinvented the John Butler Trio again, after jamming with good friend and brother-in-law, Nicky Bomba. Bomba was the principle percussionist for their third album, Sunrise Over Sea, but has never before toured as part of the Trio.
“All of a sudden I realized I was changing band members and thought I should keep going with that feeling of rebirth and found Byron [Luiters]. It changed my band completely,” said Butler. “I wasn’t expecting to do that, it just felt like the right thing to do.” Luiters, a bassist, now rounds out the trio.
Before JBT took the stage, Ontario openers LeE HARVeY OsMOND regaled the crowd with their crooning, soulful opening act that included a cover of Colin James’ “Freedom.” The gritty acoustic blues quintet played as a duo, but the sound was still full and had a suitable raw feeling that’s lacking in their recorded work.
Butler was right about letting the music do the talking. His fingers told stories, and those stories were epics, spiralling into semi-rehearsed but always semi-improvised jams and solos. Every song was extended past its original framework, with new bridges that would take the melody to a completely new, completely harmonic place. After the set came an extended encore, which nearly blended itself into a second performance, bringing the total show to over two hours.
While the trio may change and shift in numbers and style, John Butler will always be a self-reinventing, socially aware activist who keeps music at the core of his being.
“I kind of think of life as musical, just like I think life is like a dance. You have a heartbeat and a rhythm inside you,” said Butler. “We’re all very musical beings.”