Martin Sexton sang two songs in his encore: Chris Trapper‘s “Wild Irish Rose” from when he was with The Push Stars and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues”.
Trapper opened for Sexton an hour earlier and by anyone’s account made us forget for a while who’s name was on the ticket. Trapper’s songs came off like we’d listened to them over and over–like we’d done for Sexton’s–even though I doubt many in the crowd of maybe 150 had. They were about the emotion and the story. If the number of syllables in the lyrics didn’t quite match up with the tune, that was OK, he’d sing them a little fast so we couldn’t tell. I’m thinking a good biographic headline might read “Nerd Turned Folksinger Makes Good”, but then I don’t really know what a nerd or a folksinger are.
Johnny Cash was not in obvious attendance.
Let me be clear, Sexton didn’t sing Chris’ “Wild Irish Rose” while Chris sat backstage with a beer thinking, “Man it’s great to hear that guy do my stuff.” Sexton sang accompaniment on a song that was clearly Chris’ and he said so. One guy in front of me came unglued when he heard this. His buddy hugged him in celebration as if to say, “I told you he’d do it. See?” Set up like this, I was leery of what would come next. Could any song be worth a public, uninhibited, jumping up and down, man hug? Not for the first time that night I regretted not having brought a recording device of some kind.
I don’t know of anyone that can play Cash’s stuff and not conjure The Man in Black. Certainly you can’t conclude with “Folsom Prison Blues” without commanding the audience to walk back to their cars thinking of Johnny first and you second.
I’ve been to few enough concerts to just say none at all, so I can’t say how other performers handle encores but I doubt it’s this way. Generous and humble.
The smoker dude out front of the Bricktown Ballroom said it best when he remarked to a smoker dudette that it was a strange venue. That worried me as I climbed the wooden staircase. It shouldn’t have–one man’s weird is another man’s cosy. The informal clump of three men at the top of the stairs were printing tickets from a laptop, stamping hands if you wanted to drink, and some third thing that must have been equally important, but sadly unremarkable. The single warehouse room devoted the back quarter to the one step up stage. A crowd of maybe fifty leaned on the rail or leaned on those leaning on the rail. Some few had camped out on the floor along the walls or pillars. A ransom note font style poster on stage right warned against moshing or stage diving–no worries. A hand written notebook page requested the performers not hang from the sprinkler systems–not likely. In the evolution of performance space, this room held vestiges of the garage, the living room, and the back yard. An echo of–“My Mom and Dad went out to the Cape. Marty’s coming over to play.”–hung in the air. If this was weird, it was good weird. Sexton certainly played it like it was good weird.
Good included hitting four of four mics. Two of two pianos–I think they were pianos, I never saw them over the crowd. But what else do you sit down to play? And two if not three guitars. Was there a harmonica too? I suppose having all that set up ahead of time just makes the show flow quickly for the sound guy, but the down stage left mic was quite different. I don’t have the slightest idea what they call it in the industry, but it made Sexton’s voice sound like Hendrix on a guitar.
Good included excellent crowd rapport. The truth is I can listen to an album at home and get most of what I need that way. If I go out to see you live, I want to see you live playing music. Sexton didn’t disappoint me. He introduced himself with both words, lyrics, and music. His self-deprecating segues illuminated and entertained. “You don’t seem like the type of audience that screams out, “Gypsy Woman” in the middle of a quiet piece. Maybe you are, but you don’t seem like it.”
Good included every song I wanted to hear and a few I hadn’t expected–I haven’t bought “Seeds” yet. Sexton left a few hallmark songs in the cellar, but with so many to play you have to forgive him that he might not have uncorked your favorite. I’m glad he didn’t water anything down with a ten song montage. Each and every pour was generous and allowed to breath.
I’m recommending the night to all my friends. Especially those of you in Denver and LA that have time to pick up tickets for the shows later this month.
Word count: 865
Days 152, 153, 154, and 156