in performance: dave mason’s traffic jam


dave mason.

“Not everybody in England sounds like the Gecko,” remarked Dave Mason last night at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort after a member of the sold out audience asked why the veteran Brit rocker spoke with little discernible accent.

The short answer was this Rock and Roll Hall of Famer hails from Worcester, near the Welsh border, where dialects are less defined than in heavily rural regions of the country. But there is also the none-too-small matter of Mason having spent the better part of the last four decades in California.

During the course of two specifically themed sets designed to form a sort of musical autobiography of the veteran songsmith, vocalist and guitarist, Mason let the pop-rock pasts from both sides of the pond play off each other.

From his late teen years in England as a co-founder of Traffic, Mason delved into a blend psychedelic-based but often prog-leaning excursions like the darkly hued Forty Thousand Headmen (which opened the show), the comparatively roots savvy You Can All Join In, the guitar-dominate party piece Pearly Queen and perhaps Mason’s recognizable composition of the era, Feelin’ Alright. All four tunes came from Traffic’s self-titled 1968 sophomore album.

The songs all sounded remarkably fresh, with Mason’s singing, buried though it often was in the sound mix, reflecting rich detail and confidence. But Mason has long had a curious history with this music. While You Can All Join In and Feelin’ Alright are his own works, the rest of the Traffic material was penned by band mainstays Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi. Two, in fact, (Rock and Roll Stew and a bluesy revamp of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys) were recorded by Traffic four years after Mason’s initial departure.

A little more to the point was a second set devoted primarily to Mason’s California-bound solo career. Much of that, in turn, focused on his extraordinary 1970 solo album, Alone Together. The Traffic set was fun, but the Alone Together songs offered the evening’s most satisfying and complete performances, especially a riveting Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave, where Mason’s guitar soloing strengths, which had been held in reserve up to that point, were given room to roam.

How Do I Get to Heaven, a tribute tune to Capaldi (who died in 2005) from Mason’s new Future’s Past album was another highlight. It linked this pow-wow with the past to Mason’s still-vital here-and-now.

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