Martin Sexton at the beach

It was a last-minute decision to go see Marty on Saturday night. I think it was in the middle of the Lyle Lovett show on Friday night that I shifted from “I don’t really care” to “I think I had better.” The better got even better – my girlfriend Ginnie, who had driven up from Connecticut just that afternoon, was keen to go. The last time Ginnie and I went to a concert was Van at Jones Beach 1999 – Van doing a lot of Back on Top with the Johnny Scott band. That would be the show where my little love affair with “Help Me” began. But that’s another story. Ginnie got a good show that night.

Just as I expected she would with Martin. He has a good conversion rate on first-timers. Martin and his band are on the summer circuit, but tonight he was doing a one-off solo show at the Casino Ballroom up in Hampton Beach. The Casino Ballroom is in the same vein as the Roseland in NYC, but this one’s at the beach, in New Hampshire, no less. And about half the size. Think Coney Island, on a smaller scale. It’s a treat when Martin plays a solo show. He’s always got so many tricks up his sleeve, and he uses them all.

He did a few songs from his new album, Sugarcoating, and probably a couple from Solo, his previous album. I haven’t listened to either, so they’re all new songs for me when he does them. Donna and I saw him at Tupelo Hall in January – a paid rehearsal with Martin and his band, mostly trying out the songs from Sugarcoating, which was yet to be released. I found the songs to be forgettable then, and I found them to be just as forgettable tonight. He did a smattering from each of his albums but saved most of his vocal pyrotechnics for his earlier material. His voice is so versatile – I remember one show where he was singing Latin verses like he was an angel in the holy choir and the next minute he’s growling like a coal miner. He sings like his voice is a guitar being played by one of his guitar heros – a lot of noodling up in the high notes and a lot of slides from high to low and back up again, lots of scatting. and in a couple of the songs, he was playing the snare with his voice while playing drums on his guitar, which thoroughly entertains us all. But my favorite is when he can drop two octaves with his voice on the same syllable – lots of that tonight. The lost art of yodeling on “The Way I Am.” He worked his chops tonight through a lot of fan favorites, from memory, Black Sheep, Freedom Road, Glory Bound, The Things You Do to Me, In the Journey, Diner, Failure. I think it was during Candy that he took it into Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home, and we all love that too, when he gets to go off on his guitar. His Hallelujah had the audience singing their heart out on background, just like the little angels we are.

Marty’s all about the live show – about what he’s doing that night. And for something completely different, someone requested Brown Eyed Girl, and he gave us a pretty good version, a little more gusto than Van, substituting fu, fu, fus for the sha-la-las. A far cry from the usual In A Gadda Da Vida type stuff he usually treats us with. I overheard someone after the show asking who it was again who sang Brown Eyed Girl. His friend knew. Here I thought everyone knew.

Nice to get two sets, the first with a plugged-in acoustic, the second on electric. You would have guessed the second set would have pushed the limits a little more, but it stayed rather tame – it wasn’t a Beast In Me kind of night, so we all just sat around in our seats and let ourselves revel in his vocal gymnastics. It’s like he’s got a contortionist in there.

He made an interesting comment early in the show about dropping out. I think a lot of people are dropping out these days. It looks good on them.

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