To say that Butch Walker is among one of the best singer-songwriters active today is far from exaggeration. But only saying that tells a small portion of Walker’s story. He has written for and had his own songs covered by dozens of singers. He’s an in-demand producer having put his thumb on the scale for a wide range of artists from Avril Lavigne and Pink to The Donnas and Weezer, back to Pete Yorn and Gavin DeGraw. Plus a couple other gals named Taylor and Katy. No bigs. In addition, anyone who has seen Walker perform, knows he is a brilliant guitarist and showman.
His 8th solo studio album, Stay Gold, is like a storybook full of never-made 80s teen movies layered with soundtracks of sweet melodies and arena shutdown singalongs. Stay Gold is a return to Walker’s smart, yet fun blend of essential country and classic rock stirred with a healthy helping of influences from the 80s and 90s. Quiet and introspective at times, full of rock bombast at its loudest. But unlike his previous album. The Ryan Adams-produced Afraid of Ghosts, was a stirring and sombre tribute to his recently-passed father.
Currently promoting this latest release, Butch played the Virgin Mobile Mod Club on one of Toronto’s chillier nights of a hot, hot summer. Pre-set music was a fine collection of various 80s soundtracks, that a majority of the audience enjoyed. Walker came out to huge cheers, that perhaps leaned more female than male. Prior to opening the show with his latest title track, Butch kindly warned the two women beside me at the front of the stage that it was going to be loud. Kicking into the opening notes, it indeed was loud. Backed by most of his band (he cited forgotten passports for being the reason behind singer/violinist/guitarist, Suzanne Santo and guitarist, Todd Stopera staying stateside), and with a crushing hooky Mellencampian (or Petty-seasoned) chorus, Stay Gold, while the first, wasn’t the last singalong of the night. The next 3 songs were picks off the latest album – East Coast Girl, Wilder in the Heart and yet another belting melodic rocker, Ludlow Expectations. This one channeled New Jersey with an amalgam of the best of 80s Springsteen and Bon Jovi. The middle of the set focused on the previous three albums, where Walker blended a few songs with covers. First was the adding Come On Eileen brilliantly into Synthesizers (the video of which you should watch right now). Next was dropping The Who’s Baba O’Reilly into The Weight of Her. And with a Canadian nod, Walker dropped a bit of Bryan Adams’ Summer of ’69 into his homage, Summer of ’89. The covers were seamless, showing again that Walker can songcraft pretty much anything and has no issue wearing his influences on his sleeve. Sadly, a couple numbers that feature Santo needed to be dropped from the setlist in her absence. But Walker treated the crowd to a handful of snippets of Canadian rock songs. The show ended with a solo take of the last song on Stay Gold. Record Store is a bittersweet reminiscence of young lovers’ lives diverging, yet it felt like a fitting way to send a packed house full of diehard fans (because judging by the out-of-towners and people following the tour I met and it seems there’s few other ways to be a Butch Walker fan) back out into the night.