While you probably haven’t heard of Butch Walker, you’ve almost certainly heard his work. If your ears have been graced by the aural stylings of the likes of Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, or Taylor Swift – just a few of many chart-topping artists for whom Walker has produced or written songs – then you’re already somewhat familiar with his particular brand of music. Walker has become a respected performer in his own right with nine solo self-released albums to his name – the most recent of which, Afraid of Ghosts, he’s currently promoting on tour. Although his style might somewhat justifiably be called pop rock, it leans more towards the “chewing tobacco” end of the spectrum than the “bubblegum” one of the music of many of the artists with whom he’s collaborated. This comparison is especially fitting for Afraid of Ghosts, since both the analogy and the album pay homage to Walker’s Georgian roots, whose influences comprise yet another dimension of his signature style.
Walker packed the Theater of the Living Arts on Tuesday night for a two-hour solo set, following well-received openers The Dove and The Wolf (a group from Philly, by way of Paris) and Texas native Jonathan Tyler. After opening with two piano-laced ballads, Walker self-effacingly joked that he’s been playing at the TLA since the 80s, and many members of the mixed-age crowd have likely seen him there before. It’s a loyal audience, who shout out some of Walker’s oldest songs, including “Mixtape,” a request which he entertains early on in the show – albeit with the caveat that it would be the audience, not he, who would sing it. Walker integrates other songs from his past albums without audience request that are met with as much enthusiasm and lyrical knowledge – notably the upbeat “She Likes Hair Bands” and “The Weight of Her,” as well as the slow-burner “Pretty Melody” and the folksy-pseudo-ballad – a specialty of Walker’s – “The Closest Thing to You I’m Gonna Find.”
Walker is a powerhouse; he plows through the two-hour set with the vocal endurance and technical proficiency that only a seasoned professional could bring, adding tons of impromptu solos and even lying down onstage to play steel guitar-style. “21+,” a song to which Johnny Depp contributed a guitar solo on the album, is the one song on which Walker opts to duet, with surprise guest Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem, whose airy vocals blend perfectly with Walker’s resonant ones. Towards the end of the set, Walker reveals that the show was dedicated to his father, “Big Butch,” who passed away from pancreatic cancer last year, noting that all of the songs – new and old – were chosen because they were his Dad’s favorites.
Imagea courtesy of Messic and Danielle Moore.