I know nothing about Martin Sexton. Ok, almost nothing. I know I love "Glory Bound" but who doesn't? On the repeated recommendations of Jack the Rabbit, I blindly bought tickets to see Martin Sexton at the Roseland Ballroom the other night. It's extremely rare that I go to a concert without a solid knowledge of the artist, but the last time I took JTR's advice on a new band, I ended up awed at the Wood Bros. with him, so I figured Sexton might come through.
Well, yes and no.
If I were to give the night one word, it would be inconsistent. It seemed like every time I started to feel one of his songs, I was pulled right back out by a weaker track. It was like watching a great movie that continually addressed the audience. Totally interrupting. I rarely talk at concerts but I found myself talking to my friend most of the night when things got boring.
That's a bad sign...out of the entire night however, my biggest complaint was the lighting. Yes, I know: who pays attention to the lighting at a concert? Which is exactly why that's a bad sign. It was so bad that I was constantly annoyed by it. Good lighting is like good editing in a film -- you should never notice it. I was angry that whoever was in charge of the spotlight couldn't hold it on Sexton while he moved 6 inches this way and that while he was solo for the first 3 or 4 songs of the night. What could they possibly be looking at? And then, when the rest of the band came on stage, the lighting genius decided to continually flash the horrifically bright audience lights at us throughout the night. If you don't know what I mean, these were two sets of 8 lights that are blindingly bright that will sometimes go up at fantastic concerts like U2 and Pearl Jam when the audience is supposed to participate. When used sparingly at certain times, the audience will responded with the necessary "Oooo" or "Ahhhh" as the song dictates.
But here, they were just flashed indiscriminately, offbeat, and at very inappropriate times. I was actually getting angry.
Now, on to the good parts of the night. Sexton's voice is amazing. It's rare to hear someone with the range he has, a la M. Ward or Feist. Yet he sings with such a smooth and enjoyable presence that it's almost contagious. The audience was one of the most supportive and fervent crowds that I've seen and I was pleased with the energy that was in the venue. Sexton does need to work on how and when to use this following, however. At one point, he asked the audience to clap along, but he made the most complicated clap-along I've ever seen in my life. Without drinking even one beer at the show, I spent the entire 2+ minutes trying to figure out his rhythm to no avail. Obviously, the audience fared much worse. Sing-a-longs proved similar in some instances which was embarrassing for the audience as much as it was for Sexton.
Alright, alright. Way too many negatives. It's easier to write of the negatives than to explain the positives but I'll do my best.
After a lackluster and reggae-esque "Glory Bound," (the entire reason I came to see him) I turned to my friend and apologized for the night. I said that I had no idea what to expect and that the last song was my last hope.
And then they went unplugged.
I rarely am surprised at live shows, but this was truly a great idea. Sexton pulled out his acoustic guitar and the rest of his band crowded with him around a single microphone. After explaining that they would perform the next few songs "unplugged" and that the audience needed to be quiet to enjoy it, they busted into a few amazing songs that brought the house down. Featuring Sexton on acoustic and the rest of the band on stand-up bass, percussion on a bar stool, and something that I-completely-forgot-the-name-of-but-that-sounded-like "harmonium," they basically saved the night. With an enjoyable performance of "Way I Am," they made way for a tremendous cover of "Folsom Prison Blues" that blew me away. I was jumping and singing right along with them, even with the "please be quiet" restrictions in effect.
I think this might be the last time I buy tickets for a Martin Sexton concert, but I do have to say that there were many times throughout the night where I was enthralled by the show. His enthusiasm was never doubted and his encore performance left a good taste in my mouth as I walked out of the Ballroom. Sexton played keyboard and sang his brains out, just like I knew he could, instead of dancing and gesturing around like Jack Black as he did the rest of the night. Literally, you could have substituted Black in for Sexton and never known the difference. Haircut, dance moves, voice, banter, you name it -- it was uncanny. See for yourself:
If I had any influence, I think Sexton could do an unbelievable cover of Animal Libertation Orchestra's "Maria." Just listen to his voice vs. ALO. Anyways, here's some video evidence as to how amazing the unplugged portion of the night was:
Way I Am:
Folsom Prison Blues:
And just in case you were looking, here are some samples to get you going:
Martin Sexton -
ALO (Animal Liberation Orchestra) -
Johnny Cash -
*Folsom Prison Blues.mp3