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With heart and zeal, John Butler Trio takes a big crowd on a style-shifting voyage

06/08/2014 7:00 AM

06/08/2014 6:30 PM

More than 1,200 people attended Saturday’s concert at Crossroads KC, and most were enthralled with the performers. But no one in the place expressed more heart and zeal than the John Butler, leader of the headlining band, the John Butler Trio.

Butler is a singer/songwriter and a guitarist extraordinaire. He is also passionate about many things, starting with his music but including politics, the environment and human rights. Saturday night, he poured his passion into a two-hour set that visited a variety of music styles and showcased his trio as a machine that can be as unpredictable and organic as it is polished and precise.

The centerpiece of the setlist was the instrumental “Ocean,” in which Butler spent nearly a quarter of an hour producing and extracting all sorts of rhythms and sounds from his guitar. You could argue it went on too long: Towards the back of the venue a lot of people started to lose interest. But up front, where the singing and dancing never completely ceased throughout the show, the crowd submitted to its fury and groove.

His trio, which also includes drummer Grant Gerathy and bassist/keyboardist Byron Luiters, deftly shifted dynamics and styles. The JBT is a card-carrying member of the jamband world and gets passed-off as a hippie band -- it left for the Wakarusa festival in Arkansas after the Kansas City show -- but its music is difficult to pigeonhole. It bounces from acoustic folk and country to electric blues to roots to reggae to alternative rock. A list of bands or performers it resembles would include the Dave Matthews Band, the Black Keys, Xavier Rudd and at least once a song, “Revolution,” made me think of the band Live.

But whatever they play, the trio accents each song with its own traits, whether its through Butler’s voice, banjo or guitar, Luiters keyboard fills or Gerathy’s percussion, which can get manic at times.

“Ocean” seemed to be the consensus favorite of the night, but “I’d Do Anything (Soldier‘s Lament)” also got a huge response; so did “Bullet Girl” and “Only One.” Also on the selist: “Cold Wind,” “Better Than,” “Blame It On Me,” “Don’t Wanna See Your Face” and a banjo reel called “Hi Dee Ho.”

They closed with “Funky Tonight,” a riff-roaring, jam-infested anthem that rode a deep-funky groove. It had well over half the place bouncing and dancing along, no one more feverishly than the guy on stage singing it.

Frank Turner: The personable English punk rocker/ folk singer opened the show with a stripped down set. Accompanied by Matt Nasir on guitar and mandolin, he charmingly swept through 45 minutes of lively songs, including “If I Ever Stray,” “The Way I Tend to Be,” “Dan’s Song,” a cover of “Live and Let Die” and “I Still Believe,” which he dedicated to the Kansas City band the Architects and which featured some blues harping from their leader, Brandon Phillips.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com.

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