Other than the Classic Rock my dad woke me up to every Saturday and Sunday morning, I have the longest continuous love affair with the music of Martin Sexton. At age 14? 15? 16? I think 16, I heard him playing on the streets of Cambridge. He wore a big black sombrero like hat and played a few sets a day. I sat at his feet pretty consistently, enamored by both man and music. I read a number of political philosophy books at his feet, yellow highlighter on my hands and face from falling asleep in the Widner library of Harvard University. One time, the stripe ran clean across my face, over the bridge of my nose. Nonetheless, there was always Marty with his big lungs and creative guitar soul, and that made it all worthwhile.
I haven't seen Marty, now, in gosh, 10 years almost, since I saw him in Toronto. 10 years does a lot to a man, or a woman (in my case), but one thing stays the same. Martin Sexton is a musical orgasm. But the musical orgasm has changed. Previously, I felt Sexton in the lower chakras -- some deep primal sensuality that awakened desire. But now he hits the higher ones -- heart, throat, brow, and crown. The energy flows, but I feel it differently than I did 10 years ago. Is it me? I can only point to a single change. He's gotten somehow more effortless in his playing. He plays with the same effervesence that greats like Eric Clapton manage. It's as if and Martin Sexton can get any sound he wants out of his guitar, can make it sit up, beg, roll over, jump through hoops, and fetch a beer from the fridge. But he does it without making anyone aware of his fingers, the stretch, the pressure. I suppose true masters on the guitar are like this -- they play in some kind of supra-present state of existence, as if the music existed in sound before touching a string or a fret. It's a rare thing. Of course, from show to show, Sexton is always a different man. Perhaps this is where he was at tonight -- in his heart and head and not in his heart and loins? Chakra metaphors only make sense to people who buy into that mode of thinking anyway.
But, that said, a Martin Sexton solo show is a religious experience. For me, anyway. This is as close as I get to evangelism, praying in the temple of music. Sexton's evangelical references, hallelujahs, thanks you childrens, and amens, certainly make the transition easy. The crowd is, as at every show, enraptured, eager and hungry for the experience Sexton delivers. But, this is not just showmanship. When I think of those through whom the higher powers communicate to the world, Sexton immediately comes to mind. Each performance is a journey and by the end, all the pilgrims are believers, eager to walk on water for more. Those in the know shout for old songs, always Purple Rain, but in a way, the show is best when Sexton just plays what he likes. He's not a trained circus monkey. The man should be given free reign to take us where he'd like to go, and it would be nice for the audience to be open to his vision, rather than their own.
At this show, Sexton pulled out some new stops and old stops. For the purple rain fanatic, he played The Wind Cries Mary. But I was all too glad to hear him fit the theme of the Jazz festival by jazzing and bluesing up some of his now older songs: Gypsy Woman. A false start on some lyrics didn't stop him giving Diggin' Me a repeat. But, as an old old old fan, I tend to think that the songs from his earliest recordings are the best. It's my sentimental side. I was thrilled to hear In the Journey, a song I could listen to every single day of my life until death. Perhaps Black Sheep is my desert island disk???
Opener Angela Desveaux is a bit of a new discovery for me. I'd not heard her before, even though she is part of the pack of Montreal's fantastic roots-rock scene... these are the bands one can catch at places like Divan Orange and Casa del Popolo. She paired herself with Mick O'Brien, another much loved local. The two were great together, and I think they both have me as a new fan. Desveaux claims Neil Young as an influence and she played.... can't remember which one now, but it fit well within the rest of her country-tinged roots rock set.
All in all, a fabulous show. I'd jump through hoops if I thought it meant Martin Sexton would pass by these parts more often, but since he's in demand all over, I'll have to be patient with his erratic appearances and dream about the day when he'll next come.
If you've not heard Sexton live, well, make a road trip to his next performance. Conversion is inevitable.