Photo credit: Katja Liebing – Blue Moon Photography

Friday night at The Metro was an intimate affair between a man and a woman. Two Perth singer-songwriters cracked open the guitar cases and played a set of personal and stripped-back songs with little more than an impressive stage set for company.

Felicity Groom performed with just an electric guitar in a set-up and feel that was rather similar to Adalita from Magic Dirt. She initially won over the crowd by cracking a coy joke about her song, a little one about killing things that showcased her ethereal vocals. Similarly, “Only 2722.66KM” was described as one written about a guy from Melbourne who was nice but didn’t really deserve to have it written about him. It was rather aching and had soft tones, a different vibe entirely to the following where the guitars seemed to chime and jangle.

The audience was a rather large one and initially they gave this diminutive songstress their undivided attention, taking in every moment of her angelic voice. She dropped a cover of Mental As Anything’s “Live It Up,” which actually came across as a rather broody and atmospheric number by a femme fatal, about a million light years away from the glistening pop of the eighties original. It received loud cheers but these soon dissipated when Groom switched over to the Autoharp. She would finish with “Siren Song” and “An Ache”.

Before the two sets there would be an introduction that kindly asked everyone to refrain from talking and to switch off their phones. These initially worked, but both artists had moments where rude audience members were talking loudly. One lady at the back of the Metro was so noisy you’d think she was giving a speech outdoors, without a mic and as such, was over-compensating. Very annoying.

John Butler came onstage and the enthusiasm was high as he played, “Gonna Be A Long Time” for the “Beautiful f**king people” in the audience. The tour had been named “Tin Shed Tales” and the backdrop was some corrugated iron fashioned into a shed-like piece decorated by tea lights, musical instruments, skateboards and art. They were the kinds of things you would imagine in Butler’s shed back home.

Without a band and seated on a small stool, Butler could’ve been busking back in Perth, just like he did in the early days of his career. Except that anyone who expected just acoustic guitar and vocals would be sadly mistaken because he would use extra elements like a stomp box, delay pedals and loops to create an almost full-band sound just like Liam Finn did on his debut, solo album tour. And there was certainly nothing lacking when all of this was combined with Butler’s stellar, virtuoso-like playing.

Some toe-tapping goodness was rife in “Better Than,” a hit performed on the banjo that proved to be a feel-good number despite the lyrics touching on the grass-is-always-greener syndrome. Like many of the songs performed tonight, it boasted music that had a rustic cool and homespun, country charm that was so pure and wonderful. “Good As Gone” – a loved but easily forgotten B-side – was an old, blues-fuelled track you could imagine Jack White performing.

One of the most important cuts of the evening was Butler’s new offering, “Kimberley”. Before playing it he would describe the issues facing the West-Australian region at the moment as the state’s premier wants to build a large gas mine on an area of unspoilt wilderness. The song ultimately soared and has hit written all over it. It also clearly has its heart in the right place because it delivers a message to people while allowing them to simultaneously enjoy and nod along to it.

The former number wasn’t the only one that got Butler talking this evening. In fact, he was in a rather chatty mood cracking jokes about pot, swearing and even sharing some rather personal details about himself. We would learn that he was born on April Fool’s Day, his parents both had the same surname even though they weren’t related and they married when he was three years old. He attributed all of these reasons to making him an absolute smart-arse, something that was particularly evident when he shot down a couple of annoying people that called out.

He’d also tell us about receiving a precious guitar that was once owned by his grandfather, the man he was named after. In a fitting tribute to his grandparents and Irish ancestry he played a fragile, tear-inducing cover of “Danny Boy”. You could hear a pin drop during this but after it was finished the chatter began again, only to be silenced by Butler playing a long but impressive intro to “Pickapart”. Butler was almost like a pied piper silencing these offenders and really, you couldn’t fault his performance or say that he was doing anything to cause these outbursts. It was most probably just the wrong choice of venue for this kind of show, because this would’ve been better suited to a smaller, seated theatre rather than one typically synonymous with loud rock or dance music.

“Revolution” featured lots of layered beat-boxing and vocals that gave it as much spirit and power as a 60s Motown group while “Used To Get High” was some stoner fun. There was the heart-on-the-sleeve pop of “Losing You” before the bopping swagger of “Zebra” that came complete with some great, blues-infused harmonica.

It was a rather stirring ending to the main event but Butler would return for an encore. “Jenny” saw him pair up with Felicity Groom for some genteel, acoustic folk. He then decided that because he’d spoken a lot tonight – both through his friendly, between-song banter and the thoughtful messages in his songs – he would leave us with an instrumental number. It was “Ocean” the epic, artistic piece that he described as being about peace, love, wars, killing and how he feels about his family, friends and fans. Butler says it articulates what he is unable to put into words about these wonderfully, complex topics and emotions.

Rather than do it a great disservice and try to simplify the former into words, I won’t. But I will say that “Tin Shed Tales” was an absolute joy to watch. It was amazing to see an extremely gifted musician bare his soul and reveal a lot about himself and his craft. He shared so much that it had felt like a quiet, one-on-one situation in your own lounge room. In short, we learnt, laughed and even cried and the journey was worth every minute.

Originally published on 29 April 2012 at the following website:

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