Clad in a loose-fitting suit, Barclay Martin took the stage at Crosstown Station with the other three members of the Barclay Martin Ensemble at a little after 9 p.m. this past Friday Night. The wardrobe choice was far from ironic. Martin and company were simply prepared for what would turn out to be a low-key, classy affair. (Martin, from my own experience in interviewing him, revels in authentic connections with his audience, whether it's over coffee or across a stage.)
The crowd of mostly middle-aged folks -- with a handful of mid-20s professionals thrown in -- appreciated the Ensemble's laidback approach. So much, in fact, that by the middle of the set there wasn't an empty seat in the house. For those who haven't been: Crosstown Station is, as far as local music venues go, a fairly large space. Filling the place out is a noteworthy accomplishment.
What was perhaps most odd about the entire evening -- and had nothing to do with the music, or perhaps had everything to do with the music -- was that everyone in the entire place seemed to know Barclay Martin. People crept close to the stage to take pictures, not as awed groupies, but more as if they might send them as keepsakes to the band afterward. They sat reclined in their seats, as if they'd seen Barclay's show a hundred times before, and were waiting to throw back a few beers with him afterward.
For the two hours or so that the Martin Ensemble graced the stage, Crosstown felt like a relatively large house party, replete with plenty of liquor, good food and a gracious host.
Barclay Martin is a traveler. He's ventured to the Galapagos Islands, Latin America and, most recently, the Philippines. Martin doesn't travel in the study abroad sort of way of college students. He's learning, gathering small cultural details that color his artistic vision and broad personal perspective.
The music of the Martin Ensemble reflects Martin's nomadic inclinations and global interests. Waltzing, acoustic odes to life, frequent bongo accompaniments, jazz rhythms, jumping salsa beats, a cover of the Buena Vista Social club -- you could close your eyes and the Martin Ensemble takes you on a relaxing world tour. Imagine "It's A Small world" with rock music and an existential ethos.
Life for Martin isn't painful. It is, if his music is an accurate reflection, transcendental. When Martin sings, he whispers. His lyrics are poetic affirmations that drift along with the notes from his acoustic guitar. To this listener at least, Martin's is the sort of music that becomes more appealing in direct proportion to the number of drinks consumed. Not because it is bad music. (Martin and his fellow band members are in fact effortlessly talented.)
It is perhaps because the sort of naked emotion that Martin sends wafting unironically through his voice and acoustic guitar is even more palatable when buzzed.