John Butler Trio @ Newcastle Entertainment Centre - 7 March 2010 (published Sounds of Oz September 2012)

Yesterday was a day for real thought as Julia Gillard was officially announced as the prime minister of our first minority government in 70 years. I'm still not entirely sure of the ramifications of that, but I'm interested to see how it pans out. It seemed fitting that such a pivotal day should coincide with me making a trek to the Newcastle Entertainment Centre to catch two of the country's most political acts, Blue King Brown and John Butler Trio.

All too often it seems that the support act is an afterthought, a new band that needs exposure or musos that are mates with the main act. Rarely do the artists fit together to create an evening that sends such a strong message. Both Blue King Brown and John Butler Trio create music with meaning. And the Newcastle crowd lapped it up.

Blue King Brown were first, led by the mesmerizing Natalie Pa'apa'a. I caught the band a few years ago when they supported Santana, and they've come a long way since that time. Long time fans may have been thrilled to hear old favourites, but the new material from their latest album Worldwize: North & South got me going. There seemed to be more emphasis on melody, more focus in the message and the crafting of the songs. Thankfully the set was made up of songs both old and new, which gave us all something to enjoy. While support acts too often suffer from chattering crowds keen for the main act to start, Blue King Brown seemed to captivate the audience. They listened intently to these songs and gave the band the respect they really do deserve.

While Blue King Brown impressed me, I was wowed by the John Butler Trio. I'd never seen the band before, so I was struck by John Butler's incredible musical skills. The live arena is where they really come alive, and the key to that is the main man himself. It's where John can play an epic, intricate instrumental guitar piece to a transfixed audience, and switch easily between electric and acoustic guitar, lap steel guitar, banjo, and even drums. His technical talent is incredible, and his energy on stage electric.

That energy is what makes these powerful songs work. Rather than appearing preachy, the potent messages contained in the tunes take us back to the musical revolution of the late 1960s. Hearing John Butler speak about the proposed development of the Kimberley region gave "Revolution" extra power. The band's gentle acoustic cover of Kev Carmody's "Thou Shalt Not Steal" was one of the show's most poignant moments.

But this isn't the late 1960s, and bands that really have something to say are becoming rarer and rarer. Music has always been a great catalyst for change. As I watched the crowds clap their hands in unison in response to this band that has so much to say, I began to feel hope that real change is possible. And what a powerful thing that is.

(c) 2010 Lauren Katulka