Butch Walker has assimilated a lot of mojo over a couple of decades playing, writing, and producing all sorts of music, and he's lasered it all into his fine new CD, I Liked It Better When You Had No Heart, recorded as Butch Walker and the Black Widows. He and the excellent band showcased songs from the new disc in a thrilling 90-minute show at Webster Hall last night, during which the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist showed off his mastery not only of his own music but of the craft of being a rock star.
Leading singalongs, rave-ups, improvisations, charging into the audience, joking about New Jersey fans vs. New York City fans, he barreled through a set of punchy, catchy songs laced with hooks, funny lyrics ("She Likes Hair Bands"), rock anthems ("The Weight of Her"), sunny 60's funk ("Ponce De Leon Ave"), self-awareness ("Pretty Melody"), a sense of history (a Hall and Oates cover), playful stage antics, influences from everything from country to Motown to teen pop to metal, and nearly Springsteen-esque energy.
Walker's a consummate singer and instrumentalist, switching from electric and acoustic guitar to mandolin to banjolin from song to song, and moving effortlessly from husky baritone to strong falsetto along with his usual soaring tenor. His band matched him in skill and energy, all taking turns on lead vocals (how many bandleaders give their backing musicians a chance like that?) on one song, dueting on guitar solos, keeping the room throbbing whether it was a lighthearted verse or a heavy-guitar chorus.
Webster Hall's surprisingly good sound, funky, psychedelic lighting, and huge mirror ball completed the picture of everything you want in a rock show. I wasn't sure who all the fans were: their ages varied, but they were mostly kids way too young to know Walker from his heavy metal days. Maybe some came just because of his recent cover of Taylor Swift's "You Belong With Me." Whatever. Everyone got a swift kick of rock and roll, just what we needed.