Monday night at the Varsity was one for the books. “It’s About Damn Tour” is Butch Walker’s first in 4 years. I’d venture to guess that was the longest this man has been off the road. In those years he has released two fantastic and diverse albums and produced music for the likes of Green Day, Taylor Swift, The Struts, The Wallflowers, and on and on and on. It’s hard to think of a busier person in the music business. If you know Butch, you don’t need me to detail that more. You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again.
Luckily for us, one of the loves of his life is performing. I can see why he picked Minneapolis to be his first stop on this tour. I have been to at least ten Butch Walker shows. Each time I am able to recognize faces from the last tour’s crowd. Even if I don’t know names, it feels like family. You’ll always have that drunk aunt, the serious music uncle, the DIY merch cousins, and the traveling family members you only see for really special occasions (last nights was from Australia. Hi Troy!). They’ll always be there. It’s so heartfelt to get them in a room to celebrate together. The energy is so high from the crowd, even if our knees aren’t what they used to be.
The show opened with a bang – literally. Walker and his fabulous band came out on stage as black silhouettes backlit in blue, and started off with a percussive burst of energy that warped itself into the familiar and unexpected first song “Bodegas and Blood” from 2011’s The Spade. It was a really good indication of what would be to come for the evening. The set was roughly 20 songs, and none was really dominated by one album.
The stage was fogged out and gorgeously lit under a “No Requests” neon sign. It fits with the piano bar aesthetic of 2022’s “Butch Walker as… Glenn” album. The mood was perfectly set with the four-piece backing band behind him of Aaron Lee Tasjan, Mark Stepro, Todd Stopera, and Whynot Jansveld.
Switching from his tiny banjo, gorgeous guitars, and piano, he seemed to savor his time on stage. It’s a really emotional thing to see someone do what they love for the first time in a long while. Soaking in the applause and giving it their absolute all with improvisations, guitar swings, and antics. He’s a showman through and through. Songs like “Stay Gold”, “Synthesizers”, “Hair Bands”, “Hot Girls In Good Moods”, and “Bethamphetamine” satisfied the crowd. Walker soared through them with as much love as he did for the new material like “Fuck It (I Don’t Like Love)”, “Holy Water Hangover”, and “Leather Weather.”
“Bed On Fire” was a fever dream. Red moody lighting and intricate guitar work. These guys are wildly talented at their craft and really found their footing together at this point in the show. Walker ran between the members on stage, intensifying the energy that they were making with the music.
One of the best parts of the performance for me was when the “No” on the No Requests sign turned off and Walker placed himself solo behind the piano on stage. He had hinted through social media that we’d get a chance to request our favorites, and in piano bar fashion, he did just that. The selections were mostly slower jams like “Joan” from 2004’s Letters. We also were treated to others like “Mixtape”, “Chrissy Hynde”, and the always-showstopper “Best Thing You Never Had.” I loved his interaction with the crowd and his candid nature with the requests. He’s not a perfectionist like so many rock stars we see out on the road. It feels more authentic when a performer is willing to take risks on stage.
Beyond Walker’s electric performances, I’ve had some of the coolest nights at these shows – like when Taylor Swift showed up to watch him from the balcony when he was at Fine Line after her own show down the street at Target Center. Another was when I discovered openers Shovels & Rope. It’s always a wildly good time to see him evolve as a performer throughout his eras and bring his collaborators on the road.
I’m thankful to my cool older sister for sharing Walker’s music with me. We’ve made so many special memories together for over a decade. That story isn’t unique to most in the crowd. The bond over music is really something special, and this tour is exactly that. Butch Walker, his fabulous band, and his longtime and new fans coming together downtown to shake it all out. Rock n’ Roll is very much alive.