Butch Walker at the House of Blues in Chicago, IL

Butch Walker shared his delight at being back on the road by bringing a phenomenal high-energy performance to the House of Blues in Chicago.

We last saw Butch Walker at this same venue in 2018 and we commented at the time that it is on the stage, in front of a live audience where he seems to feel most at home. This time, it was a delight simply watching the build-up to the current tour on his socials. Having spent a good deal of time off the road due to Covid, watching him getting himself ready was like watching a kid in the build upto Christmas. From a fan’s perspective, when you see an artist so genuinely excited to get on the stage and play for you, it’s impossible not to get excited yourself. Of course, with all that build-up there is still the small matter of delivering when you do get on the stage but, given we’re talking about Butch Walker here, there was never really any real concern that wouldn’t happen!

Prior to Walker taking to the stage, we were treated to an opening set from Aaron Lee Tasjan. This was our first time seeing Tasjan perform and we were immediately hitting Discogs to go and search out his back catalog after his set. Interestingly, we just had our first experience of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ (a band for whom Tasjan played guitar and whose singer Kevin Kinney acted as somewhat of a mentor to Tasjan) earlier in October at ShoalsFest in Alabama which set us off on a similar quest to search out their back catalog. Tasjan played both guitar and keyboard during his set with solid accompaniment from Whynot Jansveld on bass and Mark Stepro on drums (both members of Walker’s band) along with Erica Blinn on acoustic guitar and backing vocals. Tasjan is our favorite type of musician/songwriter – the kind that writes thoughtful/interesting lyrics and who can’t be pigeonholed into a particular category. He has a voice that draws you in and makes you really listen to what he has to say. It was a great set and the perfect start to the evening.

Walker’s fans are a truly dedicated bunch and the House of Blues was packed, which is no mean feat on a cold weekday evening in Chicago. We commented when reviewing previous performances, that there is a familial feel about Walker’s shows and after the years away from the road, that feeling actually seems to have gotten stronger. Indeed, as he stepped out onto the stage, the reception from the audience was akin to a family at an airport arrival gate greeting the family member who’d been backpacking in Australia for a couple of years. 

Similarly to Tasjan, Walker is not an artist who can easily be pigeonholed and he continues to make interesting artistic choices. The last time we saw him performing, his last album of original material was Stay Gold (although he had released Cassette Backs which included stripped-back versions of songs from that album.) This album saw him at his story-telling best, with great lyrics told against a backdrop of some fantastic rock and roll songsSince then, he has released two albums, American Love Story and Butch Walker As……. Glen. American Love Story is a Rock Opera with a narrative arc centering around a character named Bo and his progression from being a relatively bigoted young man to an enlightened loving father, traveling the country with his gay son and enjoying what the world and life has to offer. Butch Walker As……. Glen sees Walker (as Glen who is effectively a working barroom troubadour) going back to the seventies for some inspiration. It feels like the lack of any guardrails around genre is something that Walker thrives on, allowing his creativity to flourish. It also keeps things very interesting for his fans and explains why so many stick with him. It’s not just to hear the old favorites, it’s to see what’s coming next.

The band strode onto the stage and opened with “Bodegas and Blood” from The Spade. That immediately raised the energy level in the room and it never dropped from that point. The setlist drew from albums both old and new with The Spade, Stay Gold, American Love Story, and Butch Walker as …….Glen all well-represented. There was also the addition of a “Requests” section of the show which saw Walker onstage alone picking requests from a jar that had been at the merch stand. Fans were able to submit a request and were encouraged to provide a donation to the Butch Walker Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer. On the night, the selections included “Race Cars and Goth Rock” and “Suburbia” which saw literally the entire audience providing the vocals for certain parts of the song. You have to be a musician of the highest caliber to be willing to stand on a stage in front of a packed house and open yourself up to requests, many of which may be for songs you haven’t played for years. Walker, however, made it look easy and the audience absolutely lapped it up. It was an addition that made everyone, especially those whose requests were picked, feel truly involved in the show.      

Mark Stepro, Todd Stopera, and Whynot Jansveld are regular members of Walker’s band and it sounds that way. Joined by Tasjan on guitar and keys, they expertly provide all the color and support required for Walker to do his thing and they looked like they were having a fantastic time doing it. They returned to join Walker on stage following his solo requests section, launching into “The Closest Thing to You I’m Going to Find” and keeping the momentum building with “Synthesizers,” “She Likes Hair Bands,” and, of course, “Summer of 89.”   

As the last notes of encore “Hot Girls in Good Moods” rang out, everyone in the venue, including Walker and the band, were basking in the glow that only comes from having seen/performed in a truly great live show. Walker’s shows are always ones we look forward to with great anticipation and there is a reason for that. Watching an artist who clearly loves every moment of what he is doing and truly appreciates his audience makes for evenings that live long in the memory.

If you get the chance, make sure to catch Walker on this tour as he comes through your town. He is truly excited to play for you and we guarantee that, if you do go, it’ll be one of “those shows” – the kind you reminisce about often over beers with friends for years to come.   

Words by: Phil Walton
Photos by: Kirstine Walton

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About Phil Walton 84 Articles
Phil grew up in the UK and loved listening to and playing music from a young age. He moved from the UK to Chicago in 2011, falling in love with the city and its music scene. He enjoys nothing better than spending time with musicians, whether it be watching them perform, talking to them for the website or reading their autobiographies.