Only a few days after closing out the ceremonies for CHOM’s 50th-anniversary party with his band The Tea Party, the captain of that particular pirate ship was bringing his solo act to L’Astral for an intimate acoustic evening. Jeff Martin’s solo performances are always a special evening, impromptu, unscripted and incredibly interactive.
Before we got to the main event though, Andre Papanicolaou was tasked with opening the ceremonies. A local songster who’s gotten some airplay on CHOM over the last few years, Papanicolaou got a warm reception. He was incredibly warm and endearing, telling stories and cracking jokes between songs, often explaining how each song came about and stories about having a long ethnic name. The music lived up to his warm personality with humble charm.
As humble as the opener was, Martin strolled out with all the arrogance and aura of a drunken pirate. He sat down with a coy smile and a “hello Montreal” that sounded like an attempt to seduce the whole city. The former resident of our fair city gave a lot of nods out to the crowd and despite relocating to Australia over a decade ago seemed quite at home, as he always does here.
He started off with one of only 3 solo songs he would play, “To The Forces,” which eventually morphed into the Zeppelin classic “Kashmir.” Fans are used to Martin’s jukebox of covers he mixes into his own material, but on this night essentially every song was transitioned into a medley of one or two covers. The crowd especially erupted as they sang as loudly as the speakers when “Heaven Coming Down” became the U2 sing-along “With or Without You.”
The acoustic setting really accentuates the power of his voice. While playing with the Tea Party, a lot of the focus is on his blistering guitars, but this setting allows his pipes to shine. For a man with such swagger, there is a remarkable sensitivity and vulnerability to his vocals.
That was never more apparent than in his rendition of “Requiem.” While most of his stories, of which there are always many, involve sex, drugs, rock n’ roll and some memories of Montreal nights, he opened this one up by speaking of the hardships of loss and how as we get older, we start to lose people more frequently. He dedicated it to a friend he recently lost. The performance was chilling. I was amazed that in 2019, during this acoustic song, I couldn’t hear a single person talking during the song and looking around, other than those taking video, no one was looking at their phones. He was visibly choked up and struggling with this song about death. He ended the song by promising the rest of the night would be more fun.
The encore was a big highlight. It was a blues medley that started with a dirty, provocative and soulful rendition of “Black Snake Blues.” From there we took trips into Zeppelin and Stones land with stops in some sweaty southern swamplands. The acoustic setting really amplifies his ability to perform some quality blues.
It was an incredible night of music, a truly unique performer who knows how to connect with his crowd. I’ve seen the troubador in a few different cities and while he connects with every crowd, there definitely seems to be a particularly strong bond with our fair city. There’s a reason he lived here in what were the most creatively successful years of his career. Our city, like him, has a reputation for being a creature of the night and she has been a good muse to him.
Review – Richard Brunette