Last time, we were tripping balls in the psychedelic outlands. This week, it’s a return to Earth with roots music for a good harvest.
Between the beloved, scene-making legacy of the Heathens and his accomplished solo work, Matt Butcher left a deep impression on our indie scene while here. From the mid-2000s until 2011, when he relocated to Nashville, he was Orlando’s reigning prince of Americana. However, though his unmistakable appearance is unchanged, you’d hardly recognize the guy on his recent return visit (May 14, Backbooth).
First, there’s the accent. Did you know he’s an Englishman? Me neither, and I’ve known him for years. Well, apparently, he is. Born in Birmingham, England, he’s actually getting back to his roots and, he tells me, is feeling much more in his natural skin again. So next time you hear him talk, don’t give him that sideways look you gave Madonna when she started doing “the accent.”
And then there’s the music. He has a new vehicle – Matt Butcher and the Schoolyard Band – and it’s very much a new chapter. His easy drawl is still in effect, but Butcher has gone rock & roll, kids. Yes, this nice, lean trio is a straight-up, old-fashioned, rubber-burning rock & roll band. And to be completely frank, it’s a very welcome bit of levity and juice to Butcher’s sound. He tells me he’s rediscovered the fun in making music, and the greatest testament to this project is that it totally looks and sounds like it. In fact, I’ve never seen him truly rock on stage before this.
Butcher is known for taking himself seriously. It’s what drove him to hone his craft, adding value and depth to his music. But he has occasionally sagged under his own self-imposed weight. Now in a high-quality, good-time band, however, melodrama is a memory. And if it starts to creep back in, he can just burn it all up in a guitar blaze. That’s all the more reason to get serious about Matt Butcher again.
In sound and following, Deer Tick (May 13, the Social) is getting bigger and bigger. Although committed to a roots aesthetic, their modern music has always been wide in scope. And in its ever-expanding reach, they continue to show their restless vitality and deepen the case for John McCauley’s perfectly cracked voice as one of this generation’s greats.
But this packed audience was well-primed. And that all started with Have Gun, Will Travel. In case you’re a newer reader and haven’t seen the profuse written ovation I’ve heaped on them, this is the essence of it: They’re good, they’ve been good for years and, as this show affirmed, they’re still good. And bless these guys for not just being good but being in itfor the long haul. Along with Will Quinlan & the Diviners, they’ve long been one of my all-time favorite Tampa Bay area twang-rock bands. In fact, HGWT has come to be one of the most reliable standard-bearers of Florida State Americana, having made their way into more high-profile spots than most people realize (NPR, PBS, CBS’s The Good Wife, a Chevy commercial and a release on notable folk-punk label Suburban Home). They said this particular show was their biggest Orlando audience yet, although, on a weighty national bill like this, it wasn’t even their crowd. But by their finale, they had them moving and singing along. This is why you need to see them next time they roll through.
Turning it up into a total folk storm, Langhorne Slim and the Law came out full-blast like Dylan on fire. And most of that is owed to Slim’s powerful singing and presence. He commands his band’s rafter-shaking folk charge like some dead-raising combo of rock & roll showman, revival preacher and hard-hitting soul man. Across several times in recent years, I don’t recall ever seeing Slim this cutting and virile. With a voice that now seems exhilaratingly free of any bounds, his willingness to go all-in makes for a live experience of raw and unbridled feeling. And hopefully, the way he electrified souls this time will make his next headlining show here more rightfully crowded.