A Decade After Arcade Fire's Troubadour Debut, Will Butler Returns as a Solo Artist: Concert Review

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An engaging performance, if not entirely memorable, marks a solid start for the multi-instrumentalist.

When comedian Jo Firestone, the opener for Will Butler’s solo debut at Los Angeles landmark the Troubadour on Wednesday night (May 27), gave a brief introduction of the evening, she described a day in the future when those very audience members will tell their grandchildren what it was like to be there. Fans laughed at the prospect, but the importance of the show was noted.

The first real introduction to Will Butler — of Arcade Fire fame — as a solo artist, he played on the introductory theme, as members of his band wore sweaters with their names on them (Will, Julie, Sara, Miles). “We are Will Butler,” Butler declared, stretching his arms out to encompass the entirety of the stage.

Indeed, his solo album, Policy, does feature a fuller sound than Butler alone could create, even being the multi-instrumentalist that he is, and many of the album tracks are heavy on backup vocals. But Policy is primarily Butler’s attempt at experimentation, an outlet for his own creative ideas. “It’s wonderful to have collaborators, but it takes a lot out of you to explain an idea or vision,” he recently explained. “A lot of visions can be done by yourself. I was experimenting with stuff I could do on my own before roping others into it.”

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And Policy does experiment. A solidly entertaining album, featuring catchy riffs and upbeat dance numbers, it also presents Butler as a quieter singer-songwriter. For instance, the piano ballad “Sing to Me,” which Butler described as “kind of a song you could fall asleep to, and then you wake up and you’re not really sure if you’re awake or not.”

It’s a different side to Butler, who is best known as the energetic stage presence at Arcade Fire shows — from climbing the scaffolding to wearing a helmet and banging his head. Fronting his own band, he’s less frenetic. But that’s not to say that the show didn’t also include loud, dance-inducing tracks. During “Anna,” Butler was all hands and arms, throwing them in the air as he shook his head and sang the repeating refrain “money, money, money.” The audience followed suit, with those in the front dancing spastically. For “Something’s Coming,” a track reminiscent of LCD Soundsystem, Butler’s vocals approached a howl as he delivered the lyric, “Look out, look out, look out!”

Before the end of the night, Butler reminisced about the last time he performed at the Troubadour. “Ten years ago, I played here with Arcade Fire; now I’m an old man,” he cracked. That 2005 show was arguably a landmark event, a small club show before Arcade Fire, which features his brother Win as frontman, became the well-regarded Grammy winners they are today. It might even be the type of show that grandchildren would ask about. Wednesday’s show probably wouldn’t draw that same comparison, but Will Butler is an engaging solo artist in his own right.

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