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Butch Walker: (Mostly) Out With The Old, In With The New ... With Mixed Results

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 18, 2011 7:40PM

Photo by Lizz Kanneneberg

I've been a Butch Walker fan for awhile now, at least since his (very) brief reign as a MTV power-pop prince with former band The Marvelous 3 in the late '90s. While his music has always been an ever-evolving stew of nods to the history of pop - from '80s hair scuzz to emo to Top 40 - it's the guy's situation as an artist that I've found most intriguing.

As a hitmaking producer for the likes of Pink, Avril Lavigne and Fall Out Boy, Walker is certainly not making his real living touring under his own name. This has afforded him the luxury of doing what he wants, when he wants (and generally with whom he wants) when it comes to his own work as an artist, and that anything-goes, why-the-hell-not mentality is part of Walker's charm. The downside, of course, is that fans of 2004's acoustic-driven, heartbreak audio diary Letters (ahem) may not get what they want when Walker is touring in support of a straight ahead rock record like this year's The Spade.

Don't get me wrong - I really like The Spade. Lead single "Summer of '89" has the kind of fist-pumping, "oh oh oh!" chorus that Walker does better than just about anyone in the biz, and "Suckerpunch" packs just that in a loose, rollicking, guitar-bending package. It's a good thing, since Walker's Double Door set last week drew heavily on his latest - nine of the 10 tracks on the album made it onto the set list. In fact, fans of any of Walker's previous four solo albums would have been slightly puzzled (as I was) by the song selection - a handful from 2008's Sycamore Meadows, just two each from Letters and 2010's I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart and nothing at all from 2002's badass Left of Self-Centered or 2006's plucky The Rise and Fall of Butch Walker and the Let's-Go-Out-Tonites.

Fortunately Walker threw the old time fans a bone with a seven-song acoustic guitar/piano mini-set to open the show, which included Marvelous 3 classic singalongs "Cigarette Lighter Love Song" and "Every Monday." It was a brief glimpse of the past, when small acoustic shows were the norm and his gregarious audience interaction and panache created a community of devoted fans who loved not only the artist but also each other.

Yes, I'm longing for those salad days a little bit. Yes, I feel crotchety and yes, it seemed like 90% of the sold out Double Door crowd last week was having the time of their what's my problem? I guess couldn't help but wonder if the long (maybe infinite) artistic leash Walker has might be strangling that sense of community his music and persona once inspired.

Then again, maybe it's just me...