This review originally appeared on The Quietus http://thequietus.com/articles/13770-steve-mason-live-review
It was no surprise that a founding member of east coast art school experimentalers The Beta Band would go on to considerable solo success following the group’s split in the mid-2000s. Steve Mason finally appeared under his own moniker at the start of this decade, after fronting the genre-defying group since the mid 90s, and more recently releasing records under the likes of King Biscuit Time.
It’s the first evening of the season with an extra hour to inhabit the darkness of night – erratic biblical downpours cleanse Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street, a ferocious autumn storm batters down south and the world absorbs the news of Lou Reed’s passing.
Mason emerges in sharp shirt buttoned neck high and calls the respectfully timid crowd closer – dutifully we obey and cosy in, drifting through a dry ice cloud. “I lost my way when I jumped in the river, the girl repeats as she makes me shiver,” he chants like he’s working on the chain gang, shifting from foot to foot as he feels his way through the opening lines of ‘Lost And Found’. Beats and keys run through the dark lyrical mantras, with Mason moving in the manner of Ian Brown, but with a live vocal in another realm to that of King Monkey’s.
The spirit of The Beta Band looms large around tracks like ‘A Lot Of Love’, one of the finest from Mason’s latest solo effort, Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time, but it’s a far more straightforward affair than the pastiche of his past group, with uplifting piano hooks cradling pleading vocal refrains and a stop/start to tickle any 90s pop-rock aficionado.
His distinctively eerie vocals soar over a menacing backbeat through ‘Lie Awake’ before the sonic psych-pop of ‘All Come Down’. Similarly ‘Never Be Alone’ floats like a very early Verve track, with slow rock riffs and a surging chorus.
The set peaks with the glorious triptych of anthems ‘Boys Outside’ and ‘Am I Just A Man’, and the infectious trip hop of ‘Seen It All Before’. Lads’ arms are outstretched and draped around the shoulders of comrades, ecstatic embraces with pints aloft. Mason’s sublime vocals reach in with rib-spreading lyrics and heart aching hooks, leaving the ABC’s intimate upstairs space heavy with testosterone soaked sadness and the reverential nostalgia of 40-something men and a handful of women engulfed in Arctic-ready parkas.
A collage of tastes and styles are gracefully amalgamated tonight, with Mason flitting between instruments, but his primary strengths of melodic mastery and elegant lyrical expression are glaring. A funktastic bass line and sampled trumpet call to arms trigger the start of latest single ‘Fire’, igniting the singer’s political fuse with Manzarek-esque keys and a delicate drum thread, before the tentative positivism of set-closer ‘Come To Me’.
There couldn’t be a more rousing finale than last encore track ‘Fight Them Back’, all sneers and social commentary. Steve Mason was a boy whose parents never encouraged his creative pursuits – they thought him a dropout, a waster, a dreamer and a failure for not being academically minded. “Don’t let them tell you you’re worthless or nothing!” he spits, the crowd charged with reciprocal emotions and collective understanding. “We are the people!” he rallies as hands reach forward for an affectionate touch and tousle of hair.
From his first musical dalliances as St Andrews’ supreme stick man, now Steve Mason stands unique in his field, unafraid to bare his soul and wear his disdain for the establishment on his Mod-clothed sleeve. He has become increasingly political in his output over the years, and as one of Britain’s best songwriters, his battalion is paying full heed.
Steve Mason’s introversion hasn’t completely ceased, but as he matures with the passing of time it’s clear he’s more or less done with his inner demons, banishing the black clouds as best he can and embracing his role as the leftfield ideological revolutionary that modern pop is so desperately crying out for.