Now in his fourth decade of music making, former Beta Band frontman Steve Mason continues to plough his very own inventive form of eclecticism. This year’s latest solo record ‘Brothers and Sisters’ is one of 2023’s best and after catching his instore show at Pie & Vinyl back in February I was eager to see the full show.
The set is mainly made up of tracks from the new album and although the record’s intricate depth is stripped back a little with the minimal drums, keys and occasional guitar setup, the sounds made by Mason and his band offer a sonically creative escape. Mason is backed by Darren Morris’ driving piano and synths whilst on ‘Upon My Soul’, Calie Hough’s drumming in particular is gloriously complex, adding layers as the song builds. Early in the set, the rhythmic beat of ‘Planet Size’s’ chorus creates an almost hypnotic effect, drawing the audience into a collective trance.
The surroundings help with all this obviously. The venue is housed in the old St Peter’s Church with its vaulted ceilings and narrowed interior space allowing Mason to take the part of the high priest. Of course, it would perhaps be too on the nose to describe the set as a religious experience but tonight with the rapturous reception Mason receives from those in attendance it does feel pretty apt. In his position in the old pulpit Mason is an evangelist on stage conducting a sonic sermon. Seemingly always on his toes, Mason jumps from mic to guitar to percussion, a little groove here and there. Imploring his flock to clap and sing during ‘Travelling Hard’, if it’s not a show of pious devotion it’s at the very least like some kind of 6 Music Dad cult.
In his role as master of ceremonies tonight, Mason offers thanks to those who have ventured out on a freezing Dececmber evening. ‘Fox On The Rooftop’ is dedicated to those who came to see him last time in the city. He is also not backwards in coming forward when vocalising his opinions and airing his thoughts on the state of things. ‘Brothers and Sisters’ as an album deals with the fallout from Brexit and when the title track is played, Mason describes the record as being a giant ‘fuck off’ to Brexit and current government immigration policy is given short shrift.
Although the material is mainly gleaned from the recent solo record, we are treated to a couple of old Beta Band faithfuls. ‘Dry the Rain’ reminds us of just how great they were – a 25 year old song sounding as relevant and fresh during the set is testament to it. The song’s shuffling rhythms with that acoustic riff and chorus providing a sea of nodding heads in the room. He finishes with another old number, ‘Squares’ which although missing its Gunter Kallman string sample provides another reminder of Mason’s exquisite back catalogue.
The encore encapsulates Mason’s career in three songs – we get an old King Biscuit Time track ‘I Walk The Earth’ sandwiched after another Beta Band song – the excellent ‘Inner Meet Me’ and before the final song of the evening ‘The People Say’. Arms aloft, singing back at the stage, tonight’s congregation offer joyous praise for one of this country’s most endutingly creative musicians.