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Sexton seduces ; Strong voice captures soulful mood, grabs crowd at the Square

Frank Zappa told us that "Love is not music" and that "Music is best." I feel that, and so do many of you.

But what if music sounds like love? There's no way to qualify or quantify that, but when you feel it, you want to believe it. This begs the question: What if music could make us better? What if it could somehow enlighten us in a way that lasted not for days after the concert in question, not for a week, or even a a month. What if it could help us be better people for the long haul?

Ridiculous, of course. Which suggests that it is indeed an idea worth pursuing.

Martin Sexton has played Buffalo before. The man has fans in these parts. It is quite likely that, following Thursday's performance at Lafayette Square, Sexton has many more fans here. That's a good thing.

Sexton headlined a show that commenced with a well-received set from the band Twilight. The attendance was surprisingly thin at first and stayed that way for most of the Ryan Montbleau Band's excellent opening set. That group was greeted by an enthusiastic crowd, but a larger crowd follows this band routinely, and since it backed up Sexton during his set opening for the Dave Matthews Band the previous night -- that tour has been drawing 20,000 folks a night on a regular basis -- one expected a bigger turnout.

If the Montbleau Band's set pulled a thinner, though way-into-it crowd, Sexton's set was extremely well attended. By halfway through the proceedings, the place was packed. That's a good thing, because Sexton has a voice that can do some good. With the Montbleau boys providing some supple backing, Sexton offered songs from throughout his career in a fully fleshed, downright funky fashion. Imagine the Dave Matthews Band with more advanced chord changes and singing that parlays on a technically advanced level, and you've got Sexton.

So he opened with "America the Beautiful," which shows serious fortitude, then tore through a funk-inflected set of pop-based folk songs that included "Boom Sh-Boom," played an eminently danceable take on the title tune from the forthcoming "Sugarcoating" album and pulled heartstrings with a sublime "Failure." As the evening progressed, Sexton seemed to work his way deeper into his voice, working between its natural baritone range and his falsetto with an agility that astounded. More than a mere technical exercise, however, Sexton's manipulation of his several different voices came across as incredibly soulful, a rare example of chops meeting eminent sensitivity.

"Beast In Me" arrived like some warning note to a relative innocent from a true, battle-scarred survivor. Sexton has struggled along the way, has occasionally fallen, but on Thursday, he arrived in downtown Buffalo to testify on behalf of his survival. This was a pleasure to take part in. The man has soul and is more than willing to share it with the assembled. Thursday's show felt like a tent-revival meeting, replete with deeply soulful singing, some killer guitar work and a band capable of bringing the funk. The whole thing felt like it was urging us to reach for something just beyond our grasp. I, for one, appreciate the invitation.

If you weren't there, you should've been.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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WHO: Martin Sexton featuring the Ryan Montbleau Band and Civil Twilight    

WHEN: Thursday evening    

WHERE: Thursday at the Square, Lafayette Square