It may have passed you by, but in February, Steve Mason released one of the albums of the year. In the past, Mason on record has often been exceptional, but always wilfully indulgent. Be it with using sounds of dogs barking, pots and pans percussion, or samples of Formula One commentary. The sonic equivalent of ‘Look mum no hands’ showboating. ‘Meet The Humans’ found Mason with both hands firmly on the handlebars, focused, consistent and brilliant.
The question was, could that new found focus be presented to a live audience, on his tour to promote that third solo studio album. The answer was an emphatic YES. Ok so there were rambling anecdotes about Stoke and Australia. Ok he performed The Beta Band’s ‘Dogs Got a Bone’ whilst sat on stage in a bright yellow dinghy (yes really), but there is a maturity and confidence about Steve Mason these days that is compelling.
On World Mental Health Day, it was appropriate that Mason kicked off proceedings with ‘Am I Just a Man’. One of a handful of songs we are treated to from Mason’s first solo album. An album written whilst in the throes of a depression so bad, he would consider ending it all. “There’s a darkness that persists through all of this. Though I try to keep a light on, it exists” he sings on his opening song, and it’s a testament to his subsequent recovery that he keeps a lightness of touch whilst performing this and other songs from that period, notably the brilliant title track from that debut ‘Boys Outside’.
Replacing the Beta Band is something of an impossible task, although in a largely acoustic show, Mason has found great balance with his new three piece. A talented drummer/bongo player accompanies Mason and long time collaborator and bassist Stephen Duffield, who looks every inch like Robinson Crusoe as he sits inside Mason’s dinghy.
Mason performs the melodic ‘Oh My Lord’ from his politically charged second album, but it’s the new material that is the star of the show tonight. The lush melancholia and minor chords of each track suiting Masons hushed and haunted vocals perfectly. The soaring chorus of ‘Planet Sizes’, the shuffling acoustics of ‘Alive!’, the harrowing pathos of ‘Run Away’, it’s impossible to choose a highlight in a set full of wonderful moments.
Mason leaves the stage to a great ovation for a dazzling version of The Beta Band’s bonkers ‘Dr Baker’ and returns for the encore with an electric guitar for the first time in the evening. A hypnotic and groove heavy run through of the touching ‘Hardly Go Through’ provides yet another highlight, and Mason still has one last trick up his sleeve. A hugely welcome performance of the Beta classic ‘Dry the Rain’ ends the evening with a mass sing along at the Riverside. Mason takes his bows and leaves the stage as he entered it, adored, underrated and astonishingly talented.
A privilege to see this man right now.
Photographer – Lee Hammond
Part time crime-fighter and music hack, full time idiot and football obsessive.
Spent several years working in record stores in my younger days, and probably several years since nosing around them.
Liable to sing Neil Diamond songs at karaoke if left unattended.
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