Who: Steve Mason
Where: Festival Hub, Melbourne Festival
When: 15th October 2013
A major positive about this years Melbourne Festival, is the sure number of contrasting musical acts and styles, that are performing throughout the city, which can result in lesser known acts, quite possibly, putting on a gem of a gig. Tonight Scottish troubadour Steve Mason (ex-frontman of The Beta Band) managed to do just that, as he held court at Festival Hub.
With support act Stolen Violin – Jordan Ireland; ex-frontman of The Middle East – having unexpectedly pulled out, Steve Mason and his four cohorts, took to the stage, bang on 9 o’clock. The intimate venue, contained roughly 200 odd punters, with males making up about 95% of the crowd. With tambourine in hand, Mason kicked off tonight’s set, with “Lost & Found”, from his debut solo record, ‘Boys Outside’. It was a sombre opening number, which included a great head bopping beat, and a catchy chorus, which set the tone for the rest of the night.
“Oh My Lord” and “Alot of Love”, from his latest record ‘Monkey Minds in the Devil’s Time’ followed, with Mason strapping on an acoustic guitar. The former is a song that seems to have a slight 1970’s southern US rock vibe to it, especially during the line; ‘can my lord forgive me?’. While the indie-pop infused latter, showed off Mason’s craftily infectious song writing prowess, as he ponders whether love would find its way to him; ‘is there a love left for me, I just don’t know?’.
Mason isn’t a shy frontman when it comes to audience banter, whether he’s asking if many people here tonight actually know who he is, to listing some of his favourite things that Australia has given the world – The Saints get a cheer, Mark Webber does not – or admitting that he’d had the best fish’n’chips of his life here in Melbourne, which, he says as a Scotsman, is worrying. It’s obvious that quite a large Scottish contingent are in attendance – as his former group The Beta Band, would have achieved cult like status in the late ’90’s – and it’s something Mason seems honestly taken aback by.
The delicate tones of Mason’s voice shone through during the bass heavy “Boys Outside”, during which he keeps one arm behind his back, while the other hand grips the mic. Images of other British frontmen, Liam Gallagher and Ian Brown spring to mind, yet that’s where the comparison ends, as Mason’s vocal delivery and stage presence in general, proves he will always be a step ahead. The atmospheric “All Come Down”, at times sounds like it could fall under the trip-hop banner, with its looped vocals and reverberating bass lines, but then about half way through, it kicks into a post-rock like soundscape.
Anti-Political number “Fire”, includes a funk sounding intro, and a chorus the crowd lap up. “Fight Them Back” includes a strong stand up for yourself message, as Mason urges you to use whatever you can to do so in the process; ‘get up fight them back, a fist will do and a baseball bat’, it’s at this point, the bass player holds up his pick, so as to show what it is, he uses. The set finishes up with an unexpected, yet rapturously received “Dry The Rain”, one of the The Beta Band’s best loved songs. It’s a gloriously spellbinding and spine-tingling rendition of the track, that appears on their ‘Three Ep’s’ compilation.
With that, Mason and the band stroll off stage, and after the revelers foot stomping and cheers grows louder, they return, but Mason admits that they hadn’t prepared for an encore, so having democratically gone through the set list, he decided they’d run through “Lost and Found”, “Boys Outside” and “Oh My Lord” one more time. It’s a different approach to what most people are used to, but for one of Britain’s most gifted, if sadly under appreciated songwriters, it proves what a class act Steve Mason is.
This review was written for Tonedeaf (An Australian music site)