I was a bit confused as I walked into The Varsity Theater on Saturday night. The faces of the staff members were familiar but the entire room had a different feeling than usual. Instead of a giant and open (yet beautiful) space, the floor of the theater was filled with chairs. My heart kind of broke as I realized what was going on. I looked down at my ticket and, sure enough, there was a specific seat listed. It took me a little bit to come to terms with the fact that this show was going to be far from what I was expecting. I was expecting to be able to wander as I typically do, not to be constrained to a particular seat. As the time inched closer to the show’s start time, I tried to figure out how to get around this. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m all about sitting at shows because, well, I’m old but Saturday night’s show was not one that I wanted to sit at. I opted to find a spot in the back where I wouldn’t be in the way but could enjoy the show the way I wanted to– standing up.
Almost as soon as I found my spot, the house lights went down and Martin Sexton took the stage. Full disclosure, Martin Sexton is not my normal cup of tea. His folksy singer-songwriter vibe is a far cry from the punk vibes I was drenched in on Friday night but that doesn’t change my love for this man. One of my best friends from college introduced me to Martin and it was love at first listen. It’s been over a decade since I was in college and it’s been years since I’ve seen that friend but, every time Martin comes to town, I can’t resist going to see him perform. Part of it is the nostalgia that comes with hearing his heartfelt songs and the reminder of that particular friend. Another part is just the thrill of seeing such a genius on stage.
I mean it when I say that Martin is a genius. He’s not only a brilliant vocalist and guitar player, he can do things with his voice that will leave you extremely confused. From horn sounds to a sound that you could absolutely mistake as a full drumkit to a whistle that, at times, mimics the sound of a flute, sure, you can call Martin Sexton a singer-songwriter but I think calling him a one-man band may be a bit more fitting. It may have been just him up on stage with a guitar and microphone but there were moments where, if you closed your eyes, you would have sworn there were other people on stage to help beef up his sound.
I could go on and on about Martin Sexton’s music and his lyrics but, if you want to know more about that aspect of him, I suggest you just listen to one of his countless albums. What made Saturday night’s set so special was the connection he had with the audience. Multiple times, he asked the audience to sing along with “ohhh’s and ahhh’s”. Simple enough and I wasn’t expecting much but the way that he continued to harmonize with the audience was bone-chilling in all of the right ways. It was as if the audience had been practicing for those moments and I just didn’t get the memo but, realistically, I think it was just another showing of Martin’s talent with the way he was able to read the room and play off of the audience. Another example of the connection between Martin and his fans was all of the conversations that took place after his all-too-short set. The conversations around me were about the first time people had seen Martin or how they brought their neighbors to this show because they had gotten their neighbors hooked on Martin. This means nothing to you, I realize that, but, being in the moment and hearing all of these conversations swirling around me just goes to show the power of Martin Sexton. He may not be a “household name” but he means everything to so many people and that was a beautiful thing to see on Saturday night.
“Hi! I’m on stage!” was the way she started her set. It was a cute introduction to what would become a very intimate and heartfelt set from KT Tunstall. Much like Martin, the amount of passion and love that flowed from the stage into the audience was deafening throughout the set. Other than a couple of moments when the audience was singing along to her song, it was dead silent in that “showing appreciation” kind of way. I’ll admit, I had pictured bopping and jamming out to her more upbeat songs before I knew that this was a seated show but being able to truly see her shine in the spotlight with no distractions may have been a better way to witness her set.
Her set seemed short and, before I knew it, I was hearing that iconic “Suddenly I See” track that got me hooked on this woman years ago. Although short, KT treated the audience to a little bit of everything. She kicked off her set with a new song “One Day” which turned into a medley that included “Toxic” from Britney Spears and “What I Am” from Edie Brickell & New Bohemians but then quickly went back into the discography to follow that up with “Other Side of the World”. With a couple of covers thrown in and then a gorgeous cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain” with the help of Martin Sexton to end the night, I felt like I was trapped in KT’s spell throughout the short set and was left wanting so much more.