You can know it but still you cannot imagine – even having watched or listened to his concert performances on video – what a great guitarist Dave Mason is. It takes seeing him on-stage, especially on a stage like one in “Hugh’s Room” where any artist appears before the audience up close and personal, to fully appreciate his skill as an instrumentalist. The key to Mason’s current show hides in its very title, “Traffic Jam”: Dave’s set allows for a lot of improvisation within, and beyond, a framework of a classic catalogue – both solo and recorded with a band he’d risen to fame with.
TRAFFIC gems formed the first part of the repertoire the veteran treated Toronto’s connoisseurs to on the day of Blue Jays’ triumph that the Englishman mentioned right after the opener, “40,000 Headmen” which was delivered to the strum of his 12-string acoustic in the most spellbinding way. Yes, strange, as well as fantastically teasing, it might be, yet Mason’s selection of his former group’s compositions consisted largely of the pieces Dave didn’t originally play on; and while he just hang on in the line-up when “Medicated Goo” was done – given a countrified solo by Mason now – he’d left the fold by the time the ensemble recorded “Rock & Roll Stew.” Both of them are sung these days by organist Anthony Patler whose charm equals that of the bandleader, albeit Dave’s magnetism isn’t limited to music and Mason’s just as mesmeric, if funny, when sharing his memories and pointing to the various eras’ photographs projected on a screen beside the stage.
The same screen accompanied “Dear Mr. Fantasy” with kaleidoscopic psychedelic patterns that contrasted the cut’s riff which Mason has been shaping in a bluesy way lately, the shape he also applied to “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” another composition Dave had nothing to do in the past – whence, perhaps, comes the freedom for transforming the evergreen track into an aching ballad, where his guitar wails, with a reggae coda. Today, it sounds like a tribute to the great late Jim Capaldi, and if “Pearly Queen” arrives as upbeat and perky as ever – as though to stress the undiminished power of Mason’s voice – “Look At You, Look At Me” that the two co-wrote got expanded to shimmy through funk, jazz and piano boogie and include a fretboard run topped with a flurry of tapping, but the poignancy of “How Do I Get To Heaven” was sharpened thanks to its unplugged focus. Such a no-frills approach carries the message in “We Just Disagree” and, in a muscular sort of movement down memory lane, the cover of “Apache” outlining the six-string support from Johnne Sambataro, a perfect foil for Dave, more than able to step forward, as he did a few times – sonically, not physically – and shine, very impressively on the fairly recent “Good 2 U” which only the most faithful fans in the audience seemed to know to cheer its announcement.
Less rare was “Only You Know And I Know” that Dave contributed to the DELANEY AND BONNIE live canon and made a staple of his own concert set, too, yet of course, no permutation of style could prevent “Fellin’ Alright” from recognition. No wonder, given the omnipresence of the song – Mason even told the public it became an “on hold” phone music for Bank of America who has to pay him; and on-screen were the images of dozens artists who covered the perennial tune – that, this time, took a quite heavy stance. Still, the show drew to its end with a heartfelt rendition of “All Along The Watchtower” – possibly, the only version of it, save for Dylan’s prototype, to not be influenced by Hendrix as Dave helped Jimi mold his take on that only to reclaim the piece later. And that’s basically what Mason’s been doing all his life: being himself and feelin’ alright – alive and well.
Photos: © Eugene Bychkov exclusively for DME