JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

June 7, 2015
South Side Ballroom
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Tim Taylor
Photos by Brian Ullrich

Butch Walker

Untamed Rock Star Pours His Soul

In February, Butch Walker released the first great record of 2015. Produced by Ryan Adams, Afraid of Ghosts is an honest, sometimes heartbreaking collection of songs that were written as Walker mourned the loss of his father, affectionately known as 'Big Butch'. Haunting lyrics and gorgeous melodies replaced the tongue-in-cheek humor and power-pop choruses that we've grown used to on Butch's previous records, and with the entire album being recorded in 4 days, Afraid of Ghosts perfectly captures his raw emotion and the anguish in his voice, allowing us to feel his pain while listening. After hearing this beautiful record, I knew that the only thing that could be better would be hearing Butch perform this material live.

I showed up to the South Side Music Hall expecting a night of mellow acoustic music and storytelling, but a Butch Walker show is always unpredictable. It started just as I thought it would as he walked out and sat at his piano. You could hear a pin drop in the room as he opened with "Afraid of Ghosts," and "ATL," then he shared a laugh with us about how depressing the start of this show was as he kept things going with "Passed Your Place, Saw Your Car, Thought of You," from 2008's Sycamore Meadows. He made a quick switch to guitar for a beautiful version of 2004's "Don't Move," then had Paloma and Lou of show openers The Dove and the Wolf add their hypnotic harmonies to stunning renditions of new songs "21+," and "Chrissie Hynde."

The mood started to change as Butch revisited his hair metal days, treating us to "Love Ain't Enough," which he recorded with his old band, Southgang, for 1991's Tainted Angel record. As he took another swig from the bottle of booze that sat on top of his piano, he revealed that he was doing so to kill the pain from his torn meniscus that he suffered two days before the tour started, and with each drink, he became a little sillier and his music more intense. After kicking our asses with a hard rock cover of Tove Lo's "Talking Body," and the dark "Bed on Fire," he led his fans in a sing-along during 2004's "Mixtape," which transitioned the audience from quiet listening mode to party mode.

As Butch spent the evening playing a set of his late father's favorite songs, the coolest moment of the show was when he showed his own fatherly side by bringing his almost eight-year-old son James to the stage to sing a wonderfully off-key "Let it Go Where It's Supposed To," which concluded with a noisy kiss from dad to son and a manly high five. Watching them share such a loving, bonding moment brought the crowd to tears and to their feet, as they gave James the loudest applause of the night.

After blowing our minds with songs like "Closest Thing to You I'm Gonna Find," "The Weight of Her," and "She Likes Hair Bands," Butch pulled a random fan named Aaron up on stage to sing the Marvelous 3 classic "Freak of the Week," to keep the party vibe going. Opening acts Jonathan Tyler, The Dove and the Wolf, and a dude named Todd all came out to perform a raucous version of "Synthesizers," with Butch on mandolin, then the audience had another sing-along as Tyler stayed on stage to help out on "Summer of '89,". Butch was out of control as he ripped through "The 3 Kids in Brooklyn," spending several minutes rocking out with a mind-boggling slide guitar solo, slipping in a few notes of Aerosmith's "Draw the Line," to end the wild and crazy part of the show.

For the encore, Butch came back out with an acoustic guitar, and a more serious demeanor. It was time to talk about his source of inspiration for his latest album and tour: his dad. He shared memories and stories about his relationship with Big Butch, and followed with a medley of "Coming Home," which he wrote for his dad before he died, Bette Midler's "The Rose," (with The Dove and The Wolf adding perfect harmonies), which was his dad's favorite song, and the heartbreaking "Father's Day," which he wrote after spending his first Father's Day without his dad. We watched in awe as Butch wept during "The Rose," and there wasn't a dry eye in the house as he shared such a vulnerable moment with us.

Every time I see Butch Walker perform it's a completely different experience, but this was the best one yet. We saw a buzzed and untamed rock star, a proud dad, and a grieving son all rolled into one man, and he poured out his heart and soul to us for two and a half hours on a Sunday night. As good as Butch's songs are, I think it's the truly genuine person behind them that keeps his fans coming back.