After Thanksgiving, Ottobar in Baltimore hosted Barrett Martin, one of the most accomplished percussionists today, and his one-man show.
I’m not calling it a concert on purpose. This was one of the most unique shows I have seen. It was less of a concert and more of a presentation; and once you take a look at Barrett’s discography, you’ll understand why this format makes a lot of sense.
Barrett Martin’s career began as the drummer for the grunge band Skin Yard in the late ’80s. He has played with some heavy hitters in rock music including Screaming Trees, Stone Temple Pilots, and Queens Of The Stone Age; formed the supergroups Mad Season (w/Layne Staley & Mike McCready) and Walking Papers (w/Duff McKagan); melded rock and world music with REM’s Peter Buck in Tuatara; and shined a light on other incredible artists like CeDell Davis and Nando Reis.
All of that only covers a fraction of what Barrett has accomplished. The show he has created and is currently touring brings a lot of this into focus, but not to just sing Barrett’s praises.
At Ottobar on Nov. 25, the afternoon (the show was a 3 o’clock start) began with Barrett entering the stage and talking with the audience. Unfortunately it was a smaller crowd, but an early start time two days after Thanksgiving is a tough slot.
Barrett stood between his gamelans and drum set and addressed the audience. He explained how the show was going to run. He would discuss a topic, play a video, and play along with the music. With that, he stepped aside and played a short clip that emphasized his introduction.
When Barrett returned to the stage he began talking about his early days in Seattle, playing drums for Skin Yard and Screaming Trees. The show happened to fall on Mark Lanegan’s birthday, which lent an air of poignancy to this section of the show. He talked about forming the band Mad Season with Layne Staley of Alice In Chains and Mike McCready of Pearl Jam. One day, he had been playing around on an upright bass while waiting for the rest of the band to arrive and wrote the bassline for Long Gone Day. He somewhat hesitantly showed it to the others and said they could work on it or scrap it, he didn’t mind one way or the other. They loved it and it became one of the most impactful songs on their only album, without being released as a single.
At this point, Barrett picked up the upright bass on stage and began playing along with a backing track from the album. The screen behind him flashed photos of a mid-’90s Barrett with Layne, Mike, and the late John Baker Saunders.
Stream Above, the sole album by Mad Season, on Spotify.
After that segment, we knew what we were going to get. It was a fascinating look into Barrett’s global musical journey. Each section of the presentation would highlight a different journey or several journeys he had made and how they connected.
The topics were as wide ranging as the music. Barrett talked about working in Cuba, bronze casting in Bali which led to a gamelan orchestra, and the roots of American music. He discussed working with amazing musicians like CeDell Davis, Nando Reis, Gilberto Gil, and sailing to Alaska with former Nirvana/Soundgarden/Mindfunk bassist turned Green Beret Jason Everman.
Barrett also talked about synesthesia, blues in the arctic, and astronomy. Every topic had a musical connection to work he had composed or produced. It was a fascinating two hour show that I highly recommend seeing. Fortunately, if you missed the Baltimore show, Barrett has created a show on Vevo that goes more in depth on these topics and more that will be released in 2024.
You can check out the trailer right here.
Watch the official trailer for “Singing Earth” by Barrett Martin on YouTube:
Here is a breakdown of the show:
3,000 Years Old, The Bira Ceremony
LONG GONE DAY/UPRIGHT BASS
Seattle 1980’s-90’s, No Social Media/FB Events, Word of Mouth Was Wildfire
The ABBBC’s, If You Have The Rhythm, Griots, Rhythm As Language,
Drummer/Singers, Cuba Diplomacy
Blacksmithing/Bronze Casting 5,000 Years Ago, Making A Gamelan Orchestra,
MISSISSIPPI DELTA/UPRIGHT BASS
Roots Of American Music, CeDell Davis, Texas, Mississippi, Seattle, The Last Bluesman
Cannibalismo, Tropicalia, Joy (Gilberto Gil), 25 Years With Nando Reis, Peter Buck
PERUVIAN AMAZON/NO INSTRUMENT
Graduate School, Shipibo & Synesthesia, Woven Songs Of The Amazon, Drought, 25%
Sailing With Green Berets, Metaphor For Life, Qualities Of Good Men
ARCTIC WILDLIFE REFUGE/UPRIGHT BASS
Gwich’in People 20,000 Years, 20 Hours Of Stories, Blues In The Arctic, Fiddle On A Dog Sled, Bird Migrations, Tipping Forest, Methane Mounds
GALAXY IN YOUR HEART/DRUMS
College Astronomy, Made Of Star Dust, Star Music Project
Botanist, Different Plant Remedies, Drought, Deep Amazon Album, A Blessing To All,
Birds Dropping Seedpods, Butterflies
If you’re looking for something a little different than your typical rock show, Barrett Martin’s got it. And take a gander at https://sunyatarecords.com/ for upcoming shows as well as releases from Barrett or one of the artists he produces.
Here are a few more photos of Barrett Martin performing at Ottobar on Nov. 25, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Marc Shea.