Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dave Mason Live @ Rocking on the Riverfront Concert July 16th, 2010

Seeing Dave Mason in a recent show in Detroit is like going to my 40th Class Reunion with high expectations yet leaving with a sense of dread and a fatal realization. I…I look like THEM. I’ve grown old like a tattered old coat – and my beloved classmates are no longer the people I remembered… those old effers are ancient.

Mason, the once serene sex symbol rock star is now a crotchety old fart with a big belly and a bald head. He looks more like a retired beer-swilling assembly line worker who moves to Florida, walks around in baggy shorts, wears a shirt that doesn’t hide his tremendous girth and turns his thermostat up to a constant 80 degrees. I don’t think Rita Coolidge or Bonnie Bramlett would saddle up with him anytime soon… unless they want to do the bump and grind with a big balding Buddha. Get religion.

This couldn’t be the Dave Mason I saw @ Ford Auditorium in ’71. I was there with my girlfriend and Dave was singing his ass off on songs like Only You Know and I know, Waitin’ on You and Shouldn’t Took More than You Gave. His guitar work was extraordinary - economical yet fluid, melodic and powerful. I was having’ the time of my life, listening to my hero with my best girl by my side. The crisp sweet aroma of marijuana circled the room and tantalized my olfactories. It sure smelled good. At about this time my girlfriend lights up – only it’s a cigarette. I didn’t mind. But as I looked around the auditorium, I noticed a mushroom-cloud of sweet Colombian rise from the seated throng and circle around the decorative luster of the arched ceiling. It seemed that everyone in the whole damn auditorium was smoking’ and passing it around like it was communal love fest. Like a phantom, an usher suddenly appeared from the midst of the heavy hemp fog, came up to my girl and put a hand on her shoulder. “Put it out,” he barked. Well, she put it out alright and she sent me with it. She was P-I-S-S-E-D to put it lightly. I tried to help her see the humor and the irony - if only she would have lit up a joint instead. But she didn’t find it one bit funny, instead she drove to the downtown bus station and told me to find my own way home. We ended our relationship a few months later and Alone Together became the soundtrack for our breakup. It got me through; brother…it got me through.

Dave Mason did not age gracefully but his songs were like a rare vintage wine that gives you a warm comfortable buzz. It felt like that long overdue phone call from an old friend… when the sound of his voice evokes an inward smile that no one else could see. Mason opened with World in Changes an introspective song about longing and discovery from his 1970 masterpiece Alone Together. The guitar work is fluid and the song contains several tempo changes. He followed with Let it Go, Let it Flow, a 1978 hit that has a mellow Southern California charm that sneaks up on you.40,000 Headman, a classic Traffic song from ’68 was a real treat as he Mason was able to recreate the complex textures and time signatures. Great song. He did a note for note take on one of his biggest hits, the popish Jim Krueger composition. We Just Disagree - probably the worst song of the night. Luckily enough (for me) Mason did several songs from Alone Together including Look at You, Look at Me, Can’t Stop Worrying and his two great masterworks Shouldn’t Have Took More than You Gave and Only You Know and I Know. The original LP was released on marble vinyl. It was his crowning achievement – an entire disc about love, loss and longing. It’s about breaking up with someone you love dearly and learning that the only way out of the pain and sorrow is acceptance.

He also performed two of his greatest Traffic songs Dear Mr. Fantasy and Feelin’ Alright. Mason’s guitar work was simply stunning throughout the evening from the heavy full bodied rockin’ workout on Dear Mr., Fantasy and the sonic soaring Telecaster brilliance on All Along the Watchtower, a song he introduced to his friend Jami Hendrix back in ‘68. Hendrix recorded it at Olympic Studios forthwith and released it on his legendary Electric Ladyland LP (Mason played acoustic guitar on it). Mason incorporated it into his seventies shows and recorded it for his 1974 self titled LP. Tonight it was brilliant!

Mason puts on a tight show with a set list he’s been playing for years. I can forgive the stasis as well as his well rehearsed ad-libs. I’m sure it gets stale but people only want to hear the hits. To play new original music would be the death knell to touring sixties/seventies rock bands like REO, Styx, and Boston. The audience does not want to work too hard and hopes to leave with a pile of boozy music-fueled false memories. Yet, in the middle of the show, Mason had the temerity and a huge pair of I-don’t-give-a-damn oversized balls to play songs nobody knew (got to get beyond the seventies, brother) by cranking out Good 2 U and Let Me Go from his 2008 release 26 Letters-12 Notes. Unfortunately Mason received only polite applause for his effort. To be honest these songs did not measure up to Mason’s glorious past and served as a grim reminder of the fading arc of his star power. Onstage Mason appeared anxious and awkward as if he had lost his confidence. Perhaps he is fighting his inevitable decline and the necessary losses he encounter as he gets older. These are the things we give up in order to move on to the next stage of our lives - like youth, freedom, and experimentation. But liberation from our past glories can create the conditions for true creative freedom.
Maybe that’s what keeps Dave Mason performing and thrilling crowds with his wonderful songs and his overall craft. He’s still got the mojo; it’s just harder to notice.
At mid-point during the show he bent over to adjust the microphone stand and hit his head on it and muttered something unintelligible… it just wasn’t his day.

Bo White

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