Saturday, October 25, 2008

Does Satan Wear a Suit and Tie?

My friend Kevin is in town this weekend on business. Kevin, whom I used to work with at REI, now works in the Denver office of Columbia Sportswear, which is headquartered right here in Portland, so he gets to come back to town a couple times a year on the company dime. This time around he added a couple days to his trip so he could round up a bunch of us to see Martin Sexton at the Aladdin Theater last night. I hadn't seen Martin before, but have long been a fan and have downloaded a few of his live shows from The Internet Archive, so I knew to expect a good performance. Martin did not let us down. Nor did his opener, fellow Massachusetts singer/songwriter Ryan Montbleau:

Ryan's got a band back in Cambridge, but is touring with Martin as a solo act. This was not a disappointment, however, as it allowed him to fully showcase his amazing guitar work. He looks all of 19, but he's clearly been playing for a while, and can sing as well (his range is pretty impressive). His sound is somewhere between David Gray and Jason Mraz, with a little Stevie Wonder breaking through in places. Great stuff. Next up was Martin:

Now that's an awfully blurry photo, I realize, and here's why that is, apart from the fact that I don't have a very fast lens: After I got the above shot of Ryan, the gestapo, I mean ushers, at the Aladdin threatened to make me erase my memory card if they caught me taking any more pictures. Apparently, it's just fine to take all the photos you want with a cell phone, but if you bring in a real camera, you're breaking some sort of WTO copyright agreement or some such... So long story short, I kept my eye on the ushers, and when they were both downstairs, and the lights were dark enough that they wouldn't see me, I snuck up to the balcony and ripped out a few illicit shots. None of which turned out very well, so if you want to know what Martin really looks like (and sounds like), check out the video at the top of the post.

If you're not familiar with Martin Sexton - and odds are you're not - all you really need to know about him is that he's just unbelievably good. He's eclectic to say the least, a little bluesey, a little jazzy, soulful and improvisational. While his recorded ouptut is great, a live setting is where he really shines, and last night was no exception. He opened with "Candy," and halfway through the song, busted out his trademark talk-box solo, which he repeated a few times through the set. In addition to his newer material, he offered up a number of crowd favorites like "Diner," "The Beast in Me," "Freedom of the Road" and "Hallelujah" (there's no way he could get out of the building without doing that one). Being a Massachusetts boy, he went into a couple of political diatribes, which some folks might find a little off-putting, but here in Portland we've come to not only expect but welcome this sort of thing. One highlight of the show was a rendition of "America the Beautiful" which was entirely appropriate given our current political scenario. He pulled it off with a perfect balance of earnestness and angry irony, a little reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix' famous version of the Star Spangled Banner.

He wrapped up with two encores, one of which was a duet with Ryan Montbleau on a song I wasn't familiar with. At any rate, fantastic show, check these guys out if they come to your town. You might also want to have a look at this funny Scrubs montage set to "Diner."

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