Dave Mason At The Saban

He’s a gunslinger.

This is not the show I expected. I expected Dave would come out and do a soft rock rendition of his hits for a geriatric audience which remembers “We Just Disagree,” and maybe a smattering of fans of “Alone Together.” Instead, it was just like 1969 or ’70, when the Fillmores were still open, before rock moved to the arenas.

Back then it was about the bands. Sure, they had hit songs, as in many knew them, but the concert was more like a space trip, if the act did its job well, you were lifted by the sound, your burdens were released, you did not expect the live version to sound exactly like the studio take, and the entire show was organic, this was long before ELO used tapes, never mind hard drives.

Dave told me that left to his own devices he’d be on the road 365 days a year, it’s the only thing he knows how to do, what he wants to do, and he’s got no hobbies.

Everybody likes the money, but he’s not dependent upon it, he’s just building up his wife’s trust fund.

As for making it to begin with, his father ran a candy store, and had a small ice cream factory, but Dave knew he was gonna make it in music, he was confident.

I’m not confident, certainly not of making it, how did this guy from Worcester make it?

I mean he was in Traffic then out, he put out one of the great solo LPs of all time, with no clunkers, “Alone Together” is a legend, he had a hit on Columbia…wasn’t he more of a hanger-on with a couple of moments of brightness? Wasn’t he lucky to hook up with Winwood? Was he a second-tier guy?

But then I heard him wail.

There was a drummer, another guitarist and a keyboard player. At a few times during the show there was video, mostly of people who covered “Feelin’ Alright,” but it was really purely about the music.

Who was coming to these shows? I mean if you work constantly, people have seen the act, they’ve heard the hits, why would they come back? But Dave said they did, and it wasn’t about youngsters, he had his audience.
The opener was “World In Changes.”

World in changes still going through
You’ve got a lot to learn about me too

Yes I did!

At this point Dave was playing a twelve string acoustic, but after “World In Changes” finished he switched that for a Strat. Which he testified about later in the show, how owning a Strat was a dream back then, how a radio repairman, Leo Fender, had come up with the idea, and irrelevant of the sound, the shape alone was enough to endure.

And with this red Strat…

Now you’ve got to know, the late sixties especially, maybe the early seventies too, was about the guitar. We worshipped the gods, we bought our own axes to play along, a transcendent guitar player defined an act.

Of course there was Clapton in various configurations, same deal with Beck. Page blew up with Zeppelin. But there was also Ritchie Blackmore in Deep Purple, and of course Hendrix.

Why did Dave Mason play with Hendrix? Why was he on “Crosstown Traffic”? Why was he on “Beggars’ Banquet”? Why was he gonna be one of Derek’s original Dominos? He got kicked out of Traffic, what was his key to success?

Now I get it, it was his skill playing the guitar.

That’s right, the show demonstrated Mason’s dexterity, his ability to hit every note, work his way up and down the neck, it was positively astounding. The guy’s over seventy, this should be a last dash for cash, instead Dave’s still got something to prove, he still lives for that seventy five minutes on stage. He not only enjoys it, he wants to show you that he’s got it, as much as anybody!

Now the funny thing is Dave played Traffic songs he neither wrote nor sang, like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” and “Rock and Roll Stew,” which was on record after he was gone. This seemed a bit strange, maybe the audience wasn’t that well-versed in his canon. But he also played “Black Magic Woman,” which of course was first a Fleetwood Mac song, written by one of the original gunslingers, Peter Green. And there was a version of Hank Marvin/the Shadows’ “Apache.” Dave said he loved the song, that he didn’t care whether we wanted to hear it or not, he was gonna play it for himself.

Now you might think the audience was pissed, that the sound was too loud, that they thought this was gonna be an evening of soft rock, but there was standing ovation after standing ovation. People who looked retired or close to it, with white hair, wearing slacks and button-down shirts, they rose up joyously, some of them even danced, what was going on?

I mean when we die, this music will be gone. Sure, some kids today are into the classics of yore, but this is really baby boomer music, for people over the hill. But I don’t know of any other musical era that was like this, where the players in their twenties came back with the same enthusiasm and skill in their seventies. This was not the Florida condo circuit, this was rock and roll.

And Dave let the band members sing. The other guitarist did a note perfect version of “Can’t Find My Way Home,” best live take I’ve heard other than Winwood’s.

And “We Just Disagree” was in the middle of the set, shouldn’t he have been saving it for the end?

Now some of those legendary cuts were performed also. Ironically, not “Hole In My Shoe,” the hit from the first Traffic LP, the first song Mason ever wrote.

And no “You Can All Join In” or “Cryin’ To Be Heard.”

But Dave did do “Look At You Look At Me” and “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave,” the two extended opuses from “Alone Together.”

And usually, if there’s no hard drive, these songs of yore are frail replicas of the originals. But all the parts were there, the little flourishes, Dave and the band were so tight. I mean nobody was dressed up, there was no flash, it was only about the music. And even though the tunes were old, Dave was positively making them fresh again.

Now they did “Can’t Find My Way Home” because Dave opened for Blind Faith as part of Delaney & Bonnie, who he kept bugging Chris Blackwell to sign. And then, while images of those two and the rest of the band performing flashed on the screen, Dave ripped into the number.

I don’t mean to mislead you
It’s just my craziness coming through
But when it comes down to just two
I ain’t no crazier than you

Now that sounds like Delaney and Bonnie themselves, looking at their images took you back when…when there was no internet, when musicians were cool, had chops, and were still in their twenties. That’s why you became a musician, to play music and be crazy, you couldn’t be contained by four walls, you couldn’t work at the factory, this was all you were capable of and you worked damn hard to make it continue, having more fun with the perks than worrying about the money. Why would you endorse some product, it would detract from your essence, what you believed, your credibility.

And all that money is gone now anyway. From high living back then. From getting ripped-off, the only thing left is your skill.

So the band walks off stage and then comes back for what you’re expecting, the encore of “Feelin’ Alright.” Dave prefers Joe Cocker’s version, that’s the one he plays, not the original from “Traffic.”

It was the opening cut on Cocker’s debut album, you heard it all over FM radio, before “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Dave said the song only had two chords, that was about his speed.

But suddenly over the speakers comes Artie Butler’s keyboard part. I had to look at the player to make sure he was, playing that is, the sound was so perfect.

He was.

And on screen were images of all the people who had covered the song. Blackwell had the publishing, but Dave still has the writer’s share.

Everybody’s standing, one person even with a cane, they’re grooving on the sound, literally fifty years later.

They were feelin’ alright.

And when the music stopped, I told myself “I’d come see this again.”

Usually the oldsters are just a notch in your belt. They pretend they’re still young and give you what you want and it’s creepy, once is enough, even though they keep selling the same show.

But if you look through Dave Mason’s setlists, you find they’re not identical. He’s done “In The Midnight Hour.” “Chain Of Fools.” “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” It’s about music, not stardom, just like it used to be.

These acts are old, sometimes physically incapable, most of their contemporaries in the straight world have already stopped working. But Dave Mason is remaining true to himself, he’s doing the one thing he always did, that he’s great at. You can come and experience the blistering guitarwork or you can stay home in the peace and quiet.

But you’ll be missing out.

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