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Martin Barr

Live Review

Venue: Borderline, London

Martin Barr at the Borderline

It’s amazing what effect a Porcupine Tree song can have.

As the band break into their cover of Blackest Eyes, a woman has to be helped out of the venue, having almost fainted. Clearly concerned, Barre halts the set while the victim receives attention and is thankfully revived.

“That’s the last time we play Porcupine Tree, I swear,” he deadpans. That breaks the tension over the medical interlude, and restores the attention where it should be: on a vibrant, energetic band.

Barre and co play two sets, cunningly taking a break to give the sizeable crowd the chance to buy CDs and merchandise. But splitting the set like this actually makes sense. The first part is more oriented towards the progressive, while the second one is much bluesier. 

Starting with Watch Your Step and_ Steal Your Heart Away_, what grabs the attention is just how tight this band are, and also what a breathtaking guitarist Barre truly is. But it’s vocalist Dan Crisp who holds the attention on Jethro Tull’s Minstrel In The Gallery _and _To Cry You A Song. His voice has the dalliance of Ian Anderson, but without mimicking. It suits this material well, as is also heard on Barre’s favourite extract from Thick As A Brick.

This part of the show also has stunning versions of The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby and Gov’t Mule’s Thorazine Shuffle, the latter giving drummer George Lindsay a chance to shine.

The highlight of the whole night, though, comes in the second set, when Barre, Crisp and bassist Alan Thompson provide a triple mandolin barrage on Martin’s Jig/Hymn 43. It’s an astonishing use of the folkie instrument, and Barre retains his mandolin for an extraordinarily individual cover of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads. This is quickly followed by further blues workouts in the shape of Smokestack Lightning and the heavy Rock Me Baby.

What Barre has assembled here is an impressive collective of musicians who bond onstage. They’re not sidemen, cast in the shadow of Barre’s egotistical whims. They all play their role, with the main man ensuring it’s a band of equals. 

Away from the music itself, Barre’s self-deprecating humour comes through whenever he addresses the crowd. You even believe him when he claims London is his favourite place to play, and there’s an emotional ring when A Song For Jeffrey is dedicated to late Tull bassist Glenn Cornick.

The second set climaxes with the Tull treble of Teacher, Fat Man _and _A New Day Yesterday, before Locomotive Breath proves a suitable encore and conclusion.

Inevitably concentrating on his Tull heritage, Barre’s choice of this material, his own music and other covers is absolutely inspired. On the basis of tonight’s performance, he appears to be in the throes of another golden era.

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