Live albums are a strange and wonderful concept. You can experience the charisma and musicality of a band playing in a continuos flow with a natural freedom to experiment and expand upon the compositions that had been consciously constructed in the studio. I have been to gigs where I’ll be overcome with a sudden wave of sadness between songs, plagued by the thoughts of the inevitable end of the show. It’s a devastating feeling – you want to stay in the venue to savour the moment and music for as long as possible. A live album, whether you were at the gig or not, allows you to revisit and repeat these moments indefinitely. It is a musical luxury. Gordon Gekko famously said, “Greed is good.” I would wholly subscribe to this sentiment when it comes to indulging in an exceptional album and I have been been particularly gluttonous with the latest release from Will Butler, a recording of his show in Chicago entitled, Friday Night.
Will Butler (younger brother to Win Butler) is an exceptionally talented multi-instrumentalist, composer and member of Arcade Fire, one of the most intriguing bands making music in the twenty-first century’s infancy. Following the completion of the band’s 2013 album, Reflektor, Will focused on both solo and collaborative projects outside of the famed musical commune that catapulted him into the hierarchy of indie rock. His debut solo album, Policy, released last year, was a pleasant surprise. A high energy, synth based album with temporary, Presley style vocal quivers garnered modest praise, unjustly so. It was an album that deserved more acclaim and airtime. Another career highlight enjoyed during this brief sabbatical was proceeded by Butler receiving an Academy Award nomination for his role as composer along with Owen Pallett for Best Original Score for the Spike Jonze triumph, Her.
Precisely five minutes into the the opening song of Friday Night, one that the band confess to playing for the very first time, ‘Encore Tell Me We’re Alright’, there is an exciting indication of the tone of the album. The keyboards steadily get louder and a chorus of the song’s title continues to grow until it culminates in a contained eruption of lyrical fireworks. It is in these moments of musical spontaneity, when the energy of the band and crowd collide, that you fully appreciate the importance of artists releasing live albums. Butler breaks down boundaries and is fully accessible throughout Friday Night, he is completely likeable and his deadpan and wry personality enriches the enjoyment of the songs.
The crowd participation and Butler’s interaction is surprisingly warm and playful. After a few listens, I got into the rhythm of recognising the sounds of the cheers, especially an audible “Yeah, Will”, which is unmistakably the voice of the musician’s brother and bandmate, Win. The encouragement is endearing, and it seeps into you as a faraway listener. As you would expect the musicians are extremely tight, there are no faltering moments, just perfection. The most awe-striking segment of the set begins with ‘Something’s Coming’, which blends seamlessly to a haunting and atmospheric version of ‘Sing to Me.’ The combination of female backing vocals from Julie Shore and Sara Dobbs shadowing Butler and an effortlessly alluring and pared back keyboard verges on celestial territory. It is easily the seminal song from the Chicago gig.
As the set comes to an end with ‘Encore – Friday Night’, the crowd is asked to simultaneously shout out something that they’ve never done before. With the performance finished, I nearly do something that I’ve never done before, applaud a show that I’ve enjoyed remotely as I sat on the bus journey home or crossed the road in the morning. The sudden wave of sadness that comes with Butler’s farewell and well wishes for the weekend wash away when I gleefully start the show all over again. Such is the magic of having a live show at the tip of your fingers.