The Christmas festivities were in full swing this week at the Chicago House of Blues. On the evening of Wednesday, December 20th each area of the venue was packed with party goers in their best holiday dress and ugliest Christmas sweaters. Both the restaurant and VIP room were booked full with private parties. I was there to see Butch Walker’s holiday show in the main music hall. Although Christmas music isn’t something I’m particularly fond of and a holiday show seemed out of character for Butch I figured I could get into the Christmas spirit a bit this year.
Mike McMillen(owner of Front Row Perspective and the photographer for the show) and myself arrived at the venue around 6:30, secured our passes and headed into the music hall. We still had quite a while to wait as the show was scheduled to start at 8pm. We had a few drinks and surveyed our surroundings. The venue looked smaller than I remembered it, but that could be due to the fact it was filling with patrons quickly. The stage curtain was drawn, displaying ads for future shows on a screen, and the balconies were still fairly empty. I scooped up some Butch merch before the show started and noticed a record titled “Dead Ringer” by The Whiskey Gentry for sale. This was the opening act.
The show started promptly at 8. Whiskey Gentry from Atlanta opened with a classic Christmas tune and filled the next 30 mins or so with original music from aforementioned record which was just released in 2017. The stage looked very large with them on it, as it was the lead singer and only 2 of her other 7 band mates in attendance. With minimal lighting, two guitars, and one piano it felt very much like a hometown show. The singer was decked in a leather jacket and had a voice that was very unique. Although the music had that country twang there was a rock vibe that helped make it more palatable to a wider audience. She told the crowd about how she had met Butch when she was only 17 and now years later got to perform with him. I would highly recommend checking them out!
After a short set the curtains closed and there was more waiting. I noticed the place was now packed with folks in santa hats and flashing garlands and Butch Walker T Shirts. The audience was equipped with a carol sing along pamphlet that was handed out upon arrival. 20 minutes later the stage was set, the curtain was pulled, and Butch and his holiday players took the stage. The mics were decked with white Christmas lights, the boys were gathered around the main mic and opened the show with Silent Night as white foam “snow” fell from the ceiling. The next 45 minutes was filled with classic Christmas sing alongs like Jingle Bells and Frosty the Snowman (with some minor lyrical adaptions). Who knew Christmas music could be so rock n roll?
Butch looked quite handsome in a red and white pinstripe button up, dark jeans, beat up boots, bolo tie and suit jacket. His holiday players were dressed to the nines as well. He told us how his father had always asked him to do a holiday show. He finally decided to do it and you could tell he had a damn good time too with the crowd singing and dancing and drinking together. After they finished their list of Christmas songs they went into the title song from his most recent record “Stay Gold”. Everyone screamed and cheered and nearly everyone knew every word. The following three numbers were the sequential tracks from the album. This was the first time I’d seen Butch play in 4 years, and hearing the new songs from the record I’d been listening to in my car on the way to work every day was simply magical. He kept the energy high and the snow raining down.
He played a few older songs and ended with a fabulous encore of “Hot Girls in Good Moods”. He came down into the audience during the encore, surrounded by a sea of gleaming faces, and made sure everybody was getting down, as seems traditional for the finales I’ve seen at his shows. Unfortunately he only played music from his own albums for an hour or so. The show was over and the stage cleared by 11 pm. It felt early, even for a Wednesday night. There were a few stragglers waiting around the stage, myself included, to see if Butch would return. A few fans were given some setlists by other members of the band, but no more Butch. The show was over, and at 7am he’d be getting on his flight back home and the rest of us would be heading to work or nursing hangovers, but now with the awesome memories of a rockin’ Butch Walker holiday.
review by Erica Pamson, photos by Mike McMillen