John Butler Trio, Bobby Alu | Live At Eventim Apollo Review
Eventim Apollo Hammersmith | 17th October 2018
The crowd tonight can be described in two words - multicultural and relaxed. Eventim Apollo’s interior lighting of green and pink provide a warm aura surrounding the thousands of roots rock fans waltzing through the doors. Even by 7:30, the venue begins to feel full; John Butler Trio’s arrival to London has obviously sparked a pilgrimage. As the PR professional seated in the row ahead says: “I think every Australian in London is here tonight.”
Bobby Alu ★★★
Support act Bobby Alu secures this notion, as every time the country is mentioned, the crowd erupts in cheer. Looking like a chilled Jimi Hendrix, or a Polynesian Andrew Stockdale (at least from this distance anyway), Alu opts for a soulful approach in his solo endeavour. He reveals to the crowd he’s been playing drums for Xavier Rudd, but decided to pick up a ukulele and head to the stage to perform his own material. “My mother taught me how to play this instrument,” he says, before unveiling a pristine, tropical folk sound.
Alu looks mighty comfortable. With a Samoan flag draped over his percussion kit, the singer barely teeters from the centre stage; little dips and bops keep him in the groove but don’t distract from his calm and soothing method. Alu suddenly switches from refined folk to tribal calling after telling the story of how his parents met; his father moved to the east coast of Australia to scuba dive, and ended up in Samoa on his travels. Walking into a hotel, he spotted a beautiful woman dancing in the ballroom, and thus, Alu’s parents were acquainted.
The tribal stance has Alu banging the drums in front of him incessantly, almost trance-like. He shakes it off. “My granddad turned 100 years old today,” he says. Reaching into his pocket, Alu has the crowd wave and scream for his grandfather as he records the venue in panoramic fashion. Alu’s ukulele could be mistaken for an acoustic guitar as he reaches the finale - a cover of Grover Washington Jr. and Bill Withers’ ‘Just The Two Of Us’, which somehow results in an outro identical to the James Bond theme. The performer finishes with, “Have a good life, be good, say hi to your Mum and we’ll see you guys very soon.” Peace and love, man.
John Butler Trio ★★★★
John Butler and his troupe soon appear onstage to thunderous applause. Although not exactly a trio - there are five of them - the venue houses a band and not a solo artist with backing performers; Butler stands just to the left so the group form an arc. The giant bird serving as the backdrop seems to encompass the musicians in its wingspan. ‘Tahitian Blue’ opens their set. As ‘Wade In The Water’ starts, Butler promptly sits down and handles his guitar horizontally, striking and strumming to produce the booming, lazy riff that serves as the spine to the track. John Butler Trio (using the word trio seems incorrect at this point) are mystifying, practically electric in their style, which is only confirmed once Butler shreds a preposterous solo - John Butler is a sensational guitarist.
Butler talks of how he met his wife in Broome, Australia, again to immediate applause. He tells of how the ocean looks untrue, how there appears to be a staircase to the moon when looked at just the right way. Are all roots rock artists destined to tell stories of loved ones? Probably. The young couple a few seats across are clearly feeling the love too, as they’ve barely been able to keep off each other for the past 15 minutes.
The crowd are very receptive to John Butler Trio’s new material from their album Home; the title track has them in awe underneath scarlet lights. The quintet change their approach to groove-ridden, stoner rock with seductively lit purple lights on ‘Blame It On Me’, with Butler becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the group - they appear to be watching him for his next move, although it’s hard to tell, as he’s playing the guitar like his entire life depends on it. Suddenly, the female percussionist/vocalist has completely disappeared, quite literally in a puff of smoke which is lingering where she once stood.
One by one, each member vanishes, until Butler is left, still frantically jostling with his instrument. He stops. Eventim Apollo is in uproar. He bows, flashes a peace sign and tells another story (they should have marketed some kind of story time aspect of the show), this time about his grandfather, who sadly died battling a bushfire in 1958. Cue ‘Coffee, Methadone and Cigarettes’. Every section of Butler and co.’s performance has been about cause and effect, trauma and reflection. And of course, what it means to think of home.
Every Australian in London is probably here. And as Butler himself wanted, they head back with Home in their hearts.