Tambourines to Synthscapes: Will Butler + The Sister Squares’ Electrifying Night at Rotown

WORDS: Alexandra Alden | The evening at Rotown kicked off with a question from the drummer, Miles Frances, who playfully asked the audience, ‘Who are you?’ deviating from the usual ‘How are you?’. Miles then embarked on a captivating five-song solo support slot for Will Butler + Sister Squares, featuring an amusingly absurd pretend band consisting of a 15-pack of crisps, a Sea Life board game (in Dutch), and a mini plastic houseplant. His performance effortlessly alternated between singing along to a drum machine and showcasing his drumming skills, occasionally adding a playful touch with a toy guitar, starting off with a Talking Heads cover.

Initially, the audience appeared somewhat reserved, perhaps uncertain about the night ahead or dampened by the preceding downpour of rain. However, as Miles humorously introduced his actual bandmates – frontman Will Butler and the Sister Squares trio (Sara Dobbs, Julie Shore, and Jenny Shore) – the atmosphere gradually loosened up as the band began rolling out catchy tunes like Let’s Cry.

In a wild and gloriously sweaty display of musical comraderie, Will Butler + Sister Squares delivered an electrifying set filled with infectious rhythms and fun choreographed moments. The performance commenced with a drum track, with Butler seamlessly transitioning between bass, guitar, and synths/keys throughout the night. Sister Squares acted not only as a solid foundation but also as an independent act, contributing significantly to the atmosphere. The introduction of tambourines during the third song, Take My Side from Will’s debut solo album, Policy, prompted an enthusiastic dance from the audience, notably from musician and Butler’s wife, Jenny Shore, who playfully slammed her tambourine to the floor in rhythm with the drum track, all the while with a cheeky spark in her eyes.

The band’s unwavering conviction in their music was palpable, evident in a powerful set that demanded emotional engagement. The influence of cinematic music was apparent in the sculptural and visual nature of their performance. Butler previously expressed the inspiration of Tarkovsky’s “Sculpting in Time,” in interviews, describing the process of creating their self-titled new album as a form of sculpting in time, which made sense in the context of tonight’s performance. A synth intro marked a transition into a beautiful yet melancholic interlude featuring ethereal vocals, before a metronome set the pulse for an acapella performance of Car Crash, with drummer Miles dropping to his knees in silence, eyes closed. This down-tempo, more experimental section transitioned into a big synthy drop, accompanied by graceful movements from the Sister Squares, creating a visually stunning spectacle before returning to familiar indie rock’n’roll territory.

The unexpected musical twists between soundscapes showcased ample versatility. Butler briefly stepped back from his frontman role too, allowing the Sister Squares to take centre stage with their own songs, initiating a Manipulator happy-go-lucky dance. An instrumental outro, complete with flashing lights and drum breaks, set the stage for a powerful return to the guitars, with Butler delivering intense, screamed vocals. This musical journey circled back to bass, leading into a spirited rendition of Anna, where the keys were played with fervor.

Covered in a sheen of sweat and radiating intensity, Will took a heartfelt moment to connect with the audience, expressing gratitude to them for braving the rain. Introducing his band members, the night reached its pinnacle with the joyful, clap-along-inducing Long Grass. As the band left the stage, Butler returned, declaring, “Ok, we’ll do one more!” An encore of Close My Eyes served as a fitting and spontaneous conclusion to the night, leaving the audience with lasting memories of a truly electrifying performance.