Jeff Martin’s 777 live in Melbourne — FTW!

ground cries out by jeff martin and the 777Live, baby, live…

I’ve always thought the best route to peace, love and understanding was a Gibson and a Marshall stack. So here’s a thought: instead of sending SEAL teams prowling around the world to put bullets in ears, how about we send Jeff Martin and his 777 brethren instead? Line the anti-social motherfuckers up against a wall and blast them with good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll till they see the light? And if that doesn’t work, we could strap them to the bass drum and play, say, ‘The Grand Bazaar’ until their chests explode, because even evildoers deserve to die with a song in their heart..

Which is my way of saying that last night’s gig from aforementioned Martin and Co. was brilliant fun.

With long-coated Jay Cortez grooving on bass and Malcolm Clark working up a hell of a sweat on drums, and most effective guest appearances by a chap called Rory who played a damn mean harmonica, Martin unleashed his latest venture at Melbourne’s Prince Bandroom in St Kilda. It’s a great venue, with two bars and a terraced floor and an elevated stage, and my usual power for attracting dickwads flagged so it was only some fool drunk in a cap pestering other people near me and the usual twats with iPhone cameras causing distraction.

Despite a forthcoming tour in Canada, the Tea Party seems to be becoming a thing of the past, because last night’s gig paid very little attention to the catalogue (although, it seems Melbourne got quite a different set list to Brisbane): instead, the 777 played pretty much their entire debut album (I’ve reviewed it here). Admittedly, it carries a lot of signature Tea Party elements, so maybe the shift isn’t that great.

There wasn’t a great deal of chatter last night — Martin’s voice was scratchy thanks to days on the road with this tour — but the music did the talking, and it was talking about moving on. In a set that went for at least an hour and a half, there was only a handful of Tea Party tunes, popping up towards the end. ‘Grand Bazaar’ and a wonderfully rolling, rollicking ‘Black Snake Blues’ formed the encore. Other old and recent tunes included ‘The Messenger’, ‘I Love You’ and ‘Shadows on the Mountainside’.

Coming off the disc, The Ground Cries Out is a solid and engaging album, but yes, it’s covering familiar ground. Live, though, it’s a rock ‘n’ roll beast: anthemic title track, slinky ‘The Cobra’ with Martin taking to the guitar with a bow, string-pickin’ ‘Riverland Rambler’ for a quieter moment, shades of blues and Hendrix and India and Persia, sexy rhythms and Led Zeppelin shadings, of course, right down to the double-neck guitar. With added theremin.

It’s worth noting that those dirty rhythms were also on offer in the immediate support, The Eternal: hell of a sound for a three-piece and worth checking out.

Usually I come away from a Martin gig — whether Tea Party or Armada or solo concoction — with a touch of the profound buzzing somewhere deep inside — a connection — but last night I was left with a different buzz: more physical; external rather than internal. Still, there’s no argument: the 777 have truly taken flight. Ten hours since the gig finished and my ears are still ringing…

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Jeff Martin: The Ground Cries Out … for something new?

ground cries out by jeff martin and the 777

Jeff Martin has been wandering since the Tea Party split up in 2005 (see below for reunion news!): a solo album, then the Armada with Wayne Sheehy, and some touring — a lot of touring — with numerous collaborators as the fancy took him. In there was a move to Ireland and now to Australia. Bassist Jay Cortez has become a regular, joining Martin in his latest endeavour, the 777, which is completed by drummer Malcolm Clark.

The 777 album The Ground Cries Out (Riverland/EMI) is a gorgeous product with a gate-fold centre piece in the CD booklet that sets the tone before the stereo has even hit play. If you’re a fan, you won’t be surprised to hear Middle Eastern stylings, Indian stylings, some foot-stomping blues, and that Tea Party-style rock. There are lovers leaving, lovers yearning, meetings in gardens, angels, nefarious shadows, stars, fires and femme fatales … familiar rhythms, familiar scenes, familiar phrases. It’s all feels very … familiar.

Fortunately, Jeff Martin’s brand of familiar can still be engaging: the title track is as catchy an anthem as, say, ‘Line in the Sand’, and one of the standouts, ‘The Cobra’, is given an extra touch of ominous by Cortez’s deep bassline.

Cortez has a big hand here, playing a bunch of instruments and penning ‘The Mekong’, an instrumental with a strong Vietnamese/Thai vibe. It’s one of two instrumentals, the other a more standard guitar piece.

‘Santeria’ and ‘Queen of Spades’ offer irresistible grooves, ‘Riverland Rambler’ shows country underpinnings with honky tonk piano while ‘1916’ uses a railroad beat. Closer ‘The Pyre’ — another standout — ramps up the atmospherics with thumping percussion and buzz guitar chorus.

The album feels to be skating perilously close to finding comfort in the familiar, but in this case, the devil — and the delight — is in the details.

Jeff Martin 777 are on tour. Toe-tapping is assured.

And in other Jeff Martin news: the Tea Party are reforming to play gigs in Canada in July and August, with tour dates out real soon. You can almost hear the fingers snapping as they cross throughout the USA and Oz, can’t you?

Ronnie James Dio dead, Jeff Martin live

So I’m just about to say how much I enjoyed Jeff Martin’s gig at Ruby’s last night, and I see that Ronnie James Dio has died from stomach cancer. The little guy had a massive voice — anyone who saw him tour with the Heaven and Hell Sabbath tour had nothing but praise for him (alas, I was elsewhere, and now the opportunity is forever lost).

Maybe it’s fitting, then, that Jeff Martin’s Requiem-Hurt combo was a highlight of last night’s two-hour acoustic set, accompanied by Armada bass player Jay Cortez. This was their third night in a row, and Martin’s voice had taken on a huskiness that added to the impact of the slower tunes, but he didn’t favour it, giving each song everything he had.

This was my first outing at Ruby’s, an easy 30-minute drive from home and plenty of off-street parking, at least at eight on a Sunday night. It’s an atmospheric and intimate club, lots of black and red, and a wicked timber staircase down to the basement loos. Naturally, as it is these days, it seems, the crowd had its share of tossers who got more vocal during the night: I’ve never seen bouncers come to the front of the stage at a Jeff Martin gig before, and it was a relief when the manic-depressive domestic in front of us finally decided to take it outside.

But they managed to contain themselves for the opening songs, Morocco and the aforementioned Requiem. The set canvassed Martin’s career, including Tea Party favourites The Bazaar and Sister Awake rubbing shoulders with solo songs The Kingdom and Stay Inside of Me (a duet with support act, Brisbane singer pear), and Armada tunes The Rosary (written for his dead grandmother) and Line in the Sand, and a stomping encore double of Going Down and Black Snake Blues. Add a second duet (regret I didn’t catch the singer’s name), on the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush hit Don’t Give Up (a RockWiz hit with Tina Arena), and a cover of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable, emotionally charged concert. But then, his usually are, which is why, despite the aggravation of arseholes who chatter and elbow and take their flash photographs, I keep going back for more of the same (but never quite the same).

Martin is said to be withdrawing for a few months to work on a new album. Can’t wait for that!

Jeff Martin, back in Australia

Cool news to come from the Armada gig at the East Brunswick Club last night: Jeff Martin, Canadian songwriter of note, previously of Ireland, has landed in Australia as a full-time resident. Although the travelling troubadour said he didn’t know just how much time he’d get to spend here.

The gig itself, being recorded, was damn fine, although the amount of inane crowd chatter during and between songs could be a headache for the final cut.

Martin, with Wayne Sheehy on percussion and Jay Cortez on bass (and other bits ‘n’ bobs, such as mandolin and harmonica), was in fine fettle for the two-hour performance in a hot, cramped venue offering superb sound. Seated mid-stage throughout in black shirt and jeans, he paraded a host of instruments during the night, including a hurdy gurdy, esraj, oud (won in a Cairo poker game) and theremin, as well as mainstay Gibson guitars, a classic Les Paul and an Australian-made 12-string.

The set list, similar to last year’s tour with familiar banter, ranged from Tea Party favourites such as Sister Awake and The Bazaar, to his signature solo tune, The Kingdom (album review here), again dedicated to Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires, and Armada tunes. He again offered crafty blends of NIN’s Hurt and Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, and Led Zeppelin’s Whole Lotta Love.

One highlight was Coming Home, given extra gusto by his announcement of a move to Oz, and the closing encore song, Black Snake Blues, with Cortez on slide guitar.

In Sheehy and Cortez, Martin has found ideal complements, and, combined with the regularity of his touring, must bode well for the Armada’s future. Or so I hope.