Will Butler | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Take His Side: Will Butler at Boot & Saddle
“You are about to enter another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. You are now entering… The Twilight Zone.” And that’s kinda what stepping into Boot & Saddle to see Will Butler on Friday night felt like: an entirely other dimension.
Imagine a parallel life in which everyone’s favorite indie darlings never came to be. Maybe Win Butler was never born, or maybe he and Regine Chassange just worked out all their angst in therapy instead of starting Arcade Fire, but either way, the biggest little band in the world doesn’t exist here. No “Wake Up” becoming the anthem of a generation, no “Suburbs” or precious “Who the fuck is Arcade Fire?” moments when that same won the Grammy in 2011—nothing. Well, nothing except for some punk named Will Butler just making music and playing rock ‘n’ roll shows, just for the hell of it.
Hitting the stage with his three-piece backing band—two vocalists/synth players and an increasingly shirtless drummer—Butler jumped right into it. He kicked off his set with acoustic feel-good jammer “You Must Be Kidding Me,” one of the songs written over the course of a week of an intense song-a-day partnership with the Guardian. It’s like an actually fun version of this song called “Antichrist Television Blues,” by… Oh right they don’t exist.
Alright, let’s take a step back for a second. That brings me to a really important point. It’s absolutely impossible to separate Will and Arcade Fire. It just isn’t. If they didn’t exist—and achieve the station where they currently are—he would probably still be able to release an album, but who would listen to it? And the more I’m thinking about it, the more that inextricability is okay. Will has always been the lighthearted element of Arcade Fire, and finding him on his own is refreshing, especially when you realize that you’re hearing music that doesn’t take itself too seriously, or needing to try and save the world. When the biggest interpersonal conflict on his album is whether Will and his lover should get a fishtank or a jar of squids (and what that means for their relationship), you can’t help but let your guard down—where AF would just break you down to tears.
So anyways, back to the show/the Twilight Zone. Will kept the jams coming with “Son of God,” a catchy number heavy on the “Oh-oh-ohs,” but not like that other song with the “Whoa-oh-ohs.” You know the one. It was a good thing that Will wore his finest tux and dancing shoes, as he grooved about the tiny stage. It’s almost like he wanted the tour to have a dress code, but forgot to tell the audience? Oh well, in another life, maybe.
With his new record Policy only clocking in at 45 minutes, I had my doubts about how long the show would be. But of course, I had no need to worry. Interspersing Policy cuts with the aforementioned tracks written for the Guardian, as well as other non-album cuts, Butler made his set last over an hour and a half—more than enough time to win over anyone who might have had concerns about Bad Vibrations.
Butler’s backing band also did a cracking job of not only filling out the sound, but also making the whole show a fun experience, as well. On the keys, Sara Dobbs and Julie Shore held down the melodies, and their well-layered, sychned-up vocals really made Butler’s warble pop into life. Drummer Miles Arntzen—in addition to being the first standing-up drummer I’ve ever seen—was wildly energetic, almost upstaging Butler at times, pounding on his Christmas-light-strung kit while also slowly losing his shirt through the course of the night. The four swapped instruments with a fluidity that one would only think possible from well-trained, seasoned, twenty-something piece bands. Clapping or shuffle-dancing in unison, the charm and chemistry was almost over the top—but stopped on the near side of the line between sincere and cheesy.
While most of the Policy tracks are no-holds-barred rock ‘n’ roll numbers which allowed Butler to jam the heck out, the set also showcased his softer side. Coming in the middle of the set, crooning ballad “Sing to Me” rose and fell, brought to life differently than the album—but still a down-tempo piece aimed right at the heart. After ending vibrant, chorus-heavy “Witness,” Butler mused “Wait, why are we playing a really quiet one right after our loudest song?” before starting the acoustic, waltz-like “Luckiest Sailor.”
The back half of the set, however, was filled up with jams: “Ferdinand,” “Anna,” and closing the main set with Policy’s lead single “Take My Side” got everyone singing along to whimsical lyrics like “Oh you know, if I could fly / I’d beat the shit out of some birds!” When he left the stage, I was sure that it was the end. After all, he’d played just about everything he had, and even things I didn’t know he had. With little banter, he had almost literally shut up and played the hits—well, not those hits, but still. He still had one more, however. Non-album track “Surrender” is one of those songs that just gets stuck in your head, and you’re humming it all the way home in the light rain, happy as can be.
While diverse in BPM, the show was most certainly dominated by Butler’s undeniably fun presence. Trying to describe both Policy and the show to friends, I find myself using “fun” way more than any show has any right to be—because it just was. It’s clear that Will is using his time off from being a rock star to… Well, to still be a rock star. Just a really, really fun one, this time.
You Must Be Kidding
Son of God
Sun Comes Up
Madonna Can’t Save Me Now
What I Want
Sing to Me
Take My Side