Martin Sexton proved himself to be a man full of surprises at The Egg Saturday night — not the least of which being his disdain for songwriting.
“Songwriting is a bitch,” he said, as the nearly full house laughed. “I don’t like writing. I wish I could say I did.”
Like it or not, he’s certainly good at it, as many in this crowd reassured him after the statement. His songs were proudly on display throughout his two hour-long sets made up mostly of audience requests, with a few tracks from this year’s “Sugarcoating” album thrown in for good measure.
Perhaps the evening’s biggest surprise was Sexton’s onstage setup — eschewing typical instrument and vocal microphones, Sexton sat hunched over one microphone, belting out each song with a gritty fervor that got the crowd going from the moment he took the stage with “Freedom of the Road.” From this song alone it was abundantly clear that Sexton’s massive pipes would be the star of the show.
“Livin’ the Life,” a new song, followed with the first of many vocal solos — whistling, this time. The acrobatics continued with “Diggin’ Me’s” rapid-fire chorus hook, and a breezy scat solo highlighting the smooth jazzy undertones of the song.
That’s not to say that Sexton’s guitar playing wasn’t a key ingredient. There wasn’t a capo to be found as Sexton plunged through intricate bar chords, twisted open shapes and fluid fills that almost made your hand cramp up just watching him. “Gypsy Woman,” halfway through his second set, took the cake for best guitar workout, with its flamenco-drenched runs coupled with Sexton’s usual taught rhythm.
This was the definition of an intimate performance, thanks to the one-microphone setup onstage. This made more contemplative moments, such as “Glory Bound” during set one, all the more affecting, and brought out the sweetness in the reconciliatory tale of “Friends Again.” Sexton made it clear after his first song that he did not have a set list, and many in the crowd obliged by shouting out what they wanted to hear. To Sexton’s credit he attempted much of what was thrown his way, turning in a stellar version of “David” that was the highlight of the first set, despite his warning that he hadn’t played the song in some time and might not remember the words or chords.
When he did forget the words, as on the jumping “How Far I’ve Come,” the audience was called upon to help — although it took a few minutes before someone jogged Sexton’s memory with the first word, “truly.” The rest then quickly fell into place, with Sexton again turning in one of the powerhouse vocal performances he’s known for, jumping from falsetto to an earthy bellow with the utmost ease.
Set two opened up in a relaxed manner with “In the Journey,” before Sexton pulled out his best Joe Cocker on “With a Little Help From My Friends” — although to be fair, he definitely made the song his own, and got the entire crowd singing the chorus to boot. But as far as sing-alongs go, nothing topped the one-two punch of Sexton’s closer, a haunting version of Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain” followed by “Black Sheep,” during which Sexton walked to the front of the stage, singing and playing without the microphone and conducting the crowd.
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