Concert Review: Butch Walker at the Great American Music Hall, SF

May 28, 2009

Pop-rock superhero Butch Walker brought his Gang of Merry Musical Melody Makers to San Francisco last night and once again proved why he is the go-to guy when Avril Lavigne, P!nk, the Donnas, Fall Out Boy, and many others need some state-of-the-art pop sensibilities.

This time, Mr. Butch is touring with a three-guitar assault (firmly ensconcing himself in the Molly Hatchet/Lynyrd Skynyrd pantheon), and he is expertly accompanied by Chris Unck and Fran Capitanelli. The only bummer for fans of Walker’s guitar playing is that he doesn’t play any electric guitar at all (except for a shredfest at the very end of the night). It’s all acoustic, all the time for him, save for a few piano tunes. He showed James Hetfield-approved right-hand technique with rock-solid downstrokes on a Gibson Hummingbird in “Uncomfortably Numb,” and, elsewhere in the set, cranked out 12-string strumming that would make Pete Townsend proud. On the electric front, Unck and Capitanelli delivered great tones and tasteful parts, with Unck playing a Tele into an Vox AC15 as well as dreamy lap-steel textures. Capitanelli sported a Les Paul goldtop with a mini-humbucker in the bridge and a P-90 in the neck—how cool is that? The other mini-humbucker has since been installed in his great-sounding blue Rickenbacker. He also played two different B-Bender Teles at various points.
Much of the set was devoted to Walker’s latest, Sycamore Meadows, with “Atlanta” and “Here Comes the . . .” being highlights. Some of the coolest guitar work occurred in “Taste of Red,” “Best Thing That You Never Had,” and “Maybe It’s Just Me.” In “Maybe,” Capitanelli takes two great solos, the first one of which sounds almost like it could be an outtake from Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” sessions.

Like his records, though, Walker’s gigs don’t come across as super guitar-centric, despite the fact that they’re pretty much wall-to-wall guitar. That’s because Butch is so damn good as a singer and showman. The guy didn’t sing an out-of-tune note all night, effortlessly hitting his notes with a power and a range that would make Paul Rodgers sit up and take notice. He works the crowd like nobody’s business, dictates great dynamics to his band, and plays killer, hooky guitar parts so easily they almost seem like afterthoughts. I’ll say it as clearly as I can: Butch is the best-kept secret in the music biz. Go see this guy when he comes to your town.

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