One of the reasons I love Butch Walker is because he’s honest. (Either Walker is really honest or he’s a really good liar.) Another reason I love Butch Walker is because he’s cool. And not just cool, but sexy cool. Walker reminds you that it’s sexy cool to be honest.
And that’s what makes a Butch Walker show what it is. Sure, the music is good; his passion and expressive stage presence is entertaining and refreshing; his sense of humor makes you forget about anything his songs may have made you remember. . . But what makes a Butch Walker show a Butch Walker show is that it’s one place (especially in LA) where it’s okay to be vulnerable; it’s cool to be unguarded and real. As they sing along to every song, at a volume that nears screaming (albeit melodic), the crowd acknowledges that they’ve felt that way too. And while they may not have been brave enough to express it before, Butch Walker shows are a safe place for people to exclaim, “Yeah, I’m a little fucked up,” and then to celebrate that we all are.
Butch Walker jogs his memory with his song book
Last night’s show at The Hotel Cafe was the last show of Butch Walker’s 4-week residency at the venue. During the 3 prior shows Walker played one of his albums start to finish. Last night’s event was a fan request show. Every song on the set list (except two new songs) was requested by fans via Twitter. This proved to be more challenging for Walker as it forced him to re-learn some songs he hadn’t played in years, songs he’d forgotten he’d written. In some cases, he played songs he claimed to never have played live before. “There’s gonna be a lot of fucking up tonight,” Butch Walker remarked early on during his set.
Fans knew the words better than Walker as he played songs he swore he’d never play live again. “I hate playing this song. It’s really hard to sing – it has too many words,” Walker explained before launching into “Suburbia.” “I swore I’d never play this song live again, but you requested it . . . ” Walker’s commitment to his fans was reaffirmed numerous times during his 2-hour set.
Butch Walker plays, the audience sings
Between songs Walker lent insight into the lyrics and where he was (figuratively speaking) when he wrote each song. He openly explained that some of the songs were hard for him to sing now. “A lot of these (songs) – I’m having trouble connecting with them now because I don’t know where I was then.” Reflecting back, prior to playing some of his earlier material, Walker remembered that he used to scream a lot more when he was younger. At 40-years old he admits to being much happier now. “I had more things to be angry about back then. Well, I’ll try to scream tonight. I’ll give it a shot. . .” Walker said before launching into some of his more angst-ridden songs.
Walker played “I’m A Believer” for some fans who flew all the way from Atlanta to see the show. Walker’s parents also flew in for the show to which Walker remarked, “I never thought I’d be drinking whiskey from a bottle, in front of my parents. Well, I’m alls growned up now. . .”
Halfway through “Beautiful,” which Walker had trouble singing seriously, he added some lyrics, “I’d go get your fucking money back.” When he finished singing “Beautiful,” Walker explained his inability to play the song without laughing, “I feel like this song is a hair product commercial.”
Just like watching it on YouTube
After every song about heartbreak and pain, Walker had a way of making the crowd laugh hysterically. “I decided tonight I’m just gonna talk to you like I’m on YouTube. Like you’re watching it. . . y’know? Because when I get home this whole show will be up on YouTube and I’ll watch it and think, ‘Oh, don’t wear that!'”
In response to some holiday song requests, Walker pondered, “There aren’t any Thanksgiving songs. We should make up a Thanksgiving song.” Then, while strumming an upbeat tune, Walker sang, “White men are assholes. White men are assholes. We took this land, took this land, took this land, took this land. White men are assholes. . . I’m happy to be here.”
Walker introduced “Vampires In Love,” a song he wrote in 1997, 12 years ahead of its time. “Cuz it would be stupid to do something like that now,” Walker said, referring to the current popularity of vampire stories such as the Twighlight series and True Blood. “It just reaffirms my belief that I should never play this song again.” Walker let the audience take over the vocals as he playfully mocked the song with dramatic facial expressions. After he finished playing “Vampires In Love,” Walker commented, “That song is like Fisher Price My First Song. . . the lyrics are so stupid.”
Reviewing his song cheat sheets
He played fan-favorite song after fan-favorite song, deviating from the fan request format only twice to play new songs. Walker wrote one of the songs for his young son, reminding him to live a complete, full, passionate, fun-filled life, and not to make some of the mistakes Walker had.
Walker took us on a journey from one side of love to another, singing “Let Me Go”: Please just let me go
And I won’t be your shadow anymore
Followed by “Last Flight Out”: Is this all there really is?
Life after you
Is it all there really is?
What else can I do?
I’m just gonna taste your kiss
No matter who I’m with
“This is my get out jail free song. I’m not gonna sing it – you are,” Walker said as he began playing another fan anthem. If that’s the case, all the songs Walker played last night could be considered “get out of jail free songs” – the audience sang every one.
There's no need to scream anymore
As Walker played the older songs he seemed to get younger. I could picture him, 20 years ago, 20 years old, sitting in his bedroom. . . Just as cool then as he is now. I thought about all the musicians who’ve collaborated with Walker, those fortunate enough to have his producer credit on their album. “It would be a lot of fun to work with Butch,” I thought. He takes what he does seriously, but he also knows how to have fun. Butch Walker has changed since he wrote many of the songs he played last night. He’s more relaxed and knows first and foremost how to have a good time. Perhaps that’s why he doesn’t scream much any more.
Butch Walker leaves the screaming (and sometimes the singing) to the fans.
Oh Largo, you’re like a dependable old lover. Even when I try to walk away from you altogether, you lure me back in with the pull of good music and the allure of your distanced “I’m going to serve you from behind the safety of this gate” stance. Although I successfully resisted your temptation since Butch Walker played there December 4, 2008, you sucked me in once again.
And it was even better than I remembered.
“Trust a little in Largo” was the door guy/ticket guy/MC’s response to a question I asked about seating. I’m sure he has a name and I’d like to know it because he’s one of the reasons Largo exceeded my expectations tonight. The other reason is, of course, Fran Healy and Andy Dunlop (Travis).
Andy Dunlop & Fran Healy
Healy explained that the concept of this tour was to play songs chronologically from the first song he wrote to the most recent song he’s written. The idea is that they’ll write a new song every couple of days, and perform the new song as the last song of the set in the next city they play. “At the end of the tour, we hope to have written an entire new Travis album,” Healy remarked.
Whereas the model has been: make a record and then go on tour to support it, Healy and Dunlop flipped the model to: go on tour to support the making of the record.
Already, I loved them.
Then they played the songs, each preceded by Healy’s entertaining commentary. Healy introduced “20” as a song he wrote when he was 19, realizing the best years of his life may be coming to an end with his twentieth birthday. “People make a big deal out of turning 21,” Healy said. “But really, it’s 20 that’s the big deal because that’s when 17, 18, 19 come to an end. And those are the best years because you’re doin’ everything for the first time.” Healy also noted that this is the first song he wrote that he felt was a good song; a sign that he could make a career out of this.
If there’s one thing I like better than ice cream, it’s a funny musician. Healy introduced “All I Want To Do Is Rock” by showing a slide show about Scotland. He gave a humorous geography lesson and then ended the slide show with a picture of his view from the window in the building where he wrote the song. There was a longer story about “Turn” which boiled down to being “a song about wishes. A song full of wishes.”
“It’s an A&R man’s dream when a lead singer gets chucked,” Healy reflected. “Now he’ll write some proper songs,” said Healy, mocking the overjoyed A&R guy. This insight set the stage for Healy and Dunlop’s performance of “A Funny Thing.”
“Flowers In The Window” was written in a house where Travis once stayed. The host introduced the band to the home saying, “Everybody writes a song here.” Rebelliously, Healy thought to himself, “well, I’m not writing a song here.” But that all changed after he received inspiration while looking at flowers in the yard, through a window (and his obstructed view the morning after).
It seemed as if the guys were playing all my favorite Travis songs. In addition to the songs previously mentioned, they played “Good Feeling” and “As You Are”; “Writing To Reach You” and “Sing.” Tonight was the 4th night in a row they played Largo and Healy said they’ve changed the set every night. Although the songs themselves may change, one thing is consistent night to night – Healy and Dunlop remain true to the original concept, playing the songs chronologically during each performance.
Healy spoke about the inspiration for “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” which was written during a trip to Israel. Somebody told him it would be sunny there (his one prerequisite for the vacation) so he journeyed to Israel. The moment Healy arrived it began raining, and this song was written.
Healy also spoke about the lyric: “I’m being held up by an invisible man.” “The invisible man is the A&R guy or manager who’s holding you up (supportively) so you can finish the record. Of course, there’s a double entendre — they’re ‘holding you up’ (Healy positions his hands as if they’re guns) for the record as well.” Healy looked at the audience and continued, “I’ve never explained that to anyone before.” Then he looked at Dunlop, “I don’t think I even told you that. . .” Dunlop nodded in agreement.
Another lyric Healy discussed is: “pillars turn to butter” from the song, “Driftwood.” He was looking to complete the lyric with the idea of one thing evolving into another, to follow the “Nobody”/”Everyone” dichotomy of the previous line. “Caterpillars turn to butterflies” was the original line, but it was too long to fit the form of the song so Healy abbreviated it to “pillars turn to butter.” “But that changes the meaning again. It’s another good visual – these strong pillars turning to butter,” Healy elaborated.
I spoke with the guys for a bit after the show. Dunlop described how much fun these shows are and how they differ from a typical Travis tour. “We don’t want to get comfortable during these shows. When we’re on tour with Travis, we want to get comfortable because we’re going to be playing these songs over and over again, each night with the band. But here – we don’t want to get comfortable. There are some songs we may play every night, but we make the experience different. Especially since we’re playing four shows in a row at the same venue – we don’t usually do that. We’re aware that some people might come to more than one show and we don’t want them to think, ‘Oh. . . here we go with this again. . .” Dunlop elaborated.
We also discussed the current state of the music business. Healy and Dunlop are now off the major label and releasing music independently. Dunlop reflected, “Music is getting back to what it used to be – small record shops, independent labels, the musician and the fan, spending time with our audience, more intimate shows and settings.”
I asked how they conceived of the idea to go on tour as the central creative process for writing another record. Again, it was to do something different – to keep the tours and the music feeling fresh. Dunlop shared his outlook, “You know, we may get nothing out of it. Or we may get a lot out of it. If nothing else, we get to travel all around and see some beautiful places.”
Then I shared a perspective, telling Dunlop, “We’d like it if you’d release a double-CD; one CD with all the commentary and another with the acoustic song performances.” Dunlop mentioned that they’ve recorded everything from each show so far and that they may release it following the tour.
As of now, if you’re lucky enough to attend one of these shows, you can purchase a CD comprised of 80 minutes of live audio recorded during this tour.
Billy Corgan and Spirits in The Sky
The Hotel Cafe, LA
August 31, 2009
"Fall into the grace of where you are. . ."
It’s not often a rock band plays The Hotel Cafe. I may have just pissed off some bands that play The Hotel Cafe. However, it is rare that a true, plugged-in rock show takes place at the small venue most often recognized as the home of outstanding singer-songwriters.
But, it has happened: Perry Farrell has made a couple guest appearances at The Hotel Cafe, including one time with his side project, Satellite Party; Billy Corgan has played there previously (although it was a mellow, acoustic, solo show); Pete Townshend has stepped foot on that stage a few times; Butch Walker had people standing on tables at one time; and Cypress Hill once turned the intimate room into a hip-hop club.
Yet, for the most part The Hotel Cafe is a place where people watch quietly as songwriters sing about break-ups and alcohol. The beginning of tonight’s show was in line with that vibe, although rather than droning on about heartbreak, Corgan sang melodically about love.
Navarro and Corgan during the electric part of the show
Corgan was joined on-stage by Dave Navarro, 19-year old Mike Byrne from Portland who was chosen to play drums in the band after Corgan placed an open-call for drummers online, Mark Weitz on keyboards, Kerry Brown on percussion, Ysanne Spevak on violin, Linda Strawberry on backing vocals, Kevin Dippold on flute and mandolin, and bassist Mark Tulin.
When the mellow set of songs about love, devotion, and dreams came to an end Corgan had a surprise for the audience. Well, it wasn’t a surprise to everyone, just to those of us who didn’t see his note on SmashingPumpkins.com today: “The tour ought to end with a bang though, as tonight marks the faux Halloween show! Everyone is expected to show up in costume and there will be a costume contest held during the show.”
Intermission: Costume Contest
Corgan said he only expected seven people to show up in costume. Instead, there were about 50 people dressed in costumes ranging from an elderly angel to a pregnant alien. While unnecessary, the costume contest was entertaining, especially with Corgan’s sarcastic banter.
Throughout the show there was “that one guy” who kept disturbing the peace by shouting out obnoxious comments. So when the guy belted out, “What’s your costume, Billy?” Corgan responded, “My costume is a guy who fuckin’ hates you. . . it’s a little subtle, but I hope you feel it. . .” That was the last we heard from “that guy.”
The costume contest wasn’t the only form of audience participation. Corgan also enlisted the crowd to sing along to one of the songs. He got everybody going, singing “oh, oh, oh” and then realized he may have asked the audience to sing too many rounds. “It seems I made a rare mistake,” Corgan admitted.
Navarro and Corgan
After the costume contest Spirits in The Sky turned on the rock show. Navarro and Corgan crushed it on electric guitars. At one point, Corgan requested the bow from Spevak’s violin – and I don’t use words like this lightly (or ever, actually) – shredded.
The band played for 2 hours. Or just under 2-hours when you factor in the costume contest. When the band exited the stage, the house music came on and the musicians all went back to the dressing room instead of staying at the side of the stage, behind the curtain. This is usually a sign that show has ended and at least half the audience left. But the loudest yellers remained and did not stop screaming or clapping until Spirits in The Sky returned for one more song.
“You asked for it. . . ” Corgan warned.
Corgan playing guitar with the bow of Spevak's violin