Review & Photos | Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam | Chicago
Dave Mason :: 2.7.14 :: The Beverly Arts Center :: Chicago, IL
Read Charles’s full review after the gallery…
When people talk about the British Invasion’s influence on American music their thoughts immediately jump to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. But of almost equally enduring effect has been the music of Traffic. And while the lion’s share of the credit for this might be attributed to the virtuosity of the legendary Steve Winwood, founding guitarist Dave Mason is re-claiming his rightful portion of the band’s legacy by launching a world tour under the moniker Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam. Mason and company brought the show to the Beverly Arts Center in South Chicago for the first of two sold out shows at the intimate venue, which was designed more for a live theater experience than a concert experience. This meant comfortable seating and excellent acoustics but at the expense of a light show that was rudimentary by modern concert standards. But given the tenor of Mason’s show, during which he spends a good deal of time injecting wonderfully informative and amusing stories about the band’s history and his life into the setlist, the venue actually helped to accentuate the experience.
The evening began with a slide montage depicting album covers, band photos and vintage concert posters detailing Mason’s long career, culminating with a cheeky photo from his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. As the lights dimmed, Mason took the stage with drummer Alvino Bennett, keyboardist Tony Patler (who also handled the basslines) and Jason Roller on guitars and mandolin and began with an energetic take on “40,000 Headmen,” which was followed by “You Can All Join In” -the poppy lead track from the band’s eponymous second album, which Mason has updated for his upcoming album which is due in April (and will be available only at Mason’s website DaveMasonMusic.com). Next up was “Pearly Queen” which featured a fiery solo from Roller firmly demonstrating why Mason (who noted that Roller hadn’t even been born when most of the songs he was playing were written) has brought him on the road.
After the short “Heaven is in Your Mind,” Mason waxed nostalgic about the band’s early days, relating to the audience humorous tales of the group’s ramshackle “country estate,” which lacked electricity (instruments having to be plugged into generators) and indoor plumbing (with one of the outhouses ultimately being sacrificed for wood to heat the place) but became the laboratory for the band’s extensive “research,” both musically and chemically. He also noted that a significant part of the credit for the continuing interest in the band’s music stemmed from that part of their catalogue that was produced after he left the group. With that acknowledgement Mason led his troupe, though often ceding vocals to Patler, through “Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring,” “Rock and Roll Stew” and a darker, blues-tinged, and guitar-centered re-working of the Winwood-penned classic “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” that was one of the highlights of the evening. Continuing with another post-Mason era tune, “Medicated Goo,” Mason noted that the song had its roots in the band’s “research” binges from his early days in the group. With the promise of a second set focused more on his solo career, Mason dropped into a glorious version of “Dear Mr. Fantasy” that was, again, more guitar-centric than the original, but certainly just as satisfying.
Set two began with a folky take on Mason’s 1977 hit “We Just Disagree” which featured Roller’s dexterous mandolin skills and had the previously staid audience up and dancing. Next was “Just a Song,” a deep track from Mason’s debut solo album Alone Together. This was followed with the gritty “World in Changes,” a song that remains as poignant and politically relevant today as when it was written four decades earlier. Mason next waxed nostalgic about his lifelong friendship with Traffic’s founding drummer Jim Capaldi from their schoolboy band the Hellions through their plans to make a record, only to have those plans interrupted by the stomach cancer that would claim Capladi’s life. Calling Capaldi one of the best lyricists he had ever known, while noting with a wry smile that the accompanying music would always have to be re-worked, Mason recalled receiving a tape from a mutual friend that contained a song Capaldi had been working on at his death and quipped “it had a nice verse and a good chorus, but the music, well . . . (Shaking his head in mock horror).“ The resulting “How Do I Get To Heaven,” which mixes the consideration of one’s life when faced with one’s mortality and the memories of that dear friend who has departed too soon, left the crowd mesmerized. Next was another new tune, “Good to You,” a bluesy introspective ballad, that featured yet another burning solo from Roller.
Mason continued with “Let it Go, Let it Flow” the poppy, free-spirited “other” song from Mason’s 1977 album Let it Flow that, unfortunately, has been lost in the long shadow of “We Just Disagree.” Mason cryptically reflected that he found it hard to believe that a tune he had written as a naïve twenty-two year old would still be so relevant in his later years. He then embarked on a sultry take on his classic “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave.” From the slow bluesy introduction to the gradually increasing pace and intensity until the inevitable blissful climax, Mason claimed this song entirely for himself, not even ceding a small solo to Roller, and clearly demonstrated that, while he was happy to share the spotlight with the talented Roller, he was still the undisputed, biggest, baddest guitar slinger in town. Mason’s final story of the evening centered on a trip he had made to Greece (between the first two Traffic albums) with the dual purpose of conducting some local “research” and simplifying his song-writing technique. Dave recounted that his search for simplicity resulted in a “little two-chord song that wound up being recorded by about 48 different artists.” Indeed, he cracked that while most people actually credited the song to Joe Cocker, who performed the most famous version, he was the lucky guy that got to pull the royalty checks out of the mailbox. And as the laughter receded Mason led his ensemble through a funkified take on “Feelin’ Alright” that concluded with the entire audience on their feet. After a quick pause in the wings, the band returned to the stage for a too-short version of Mason’s trademark arrangement of “All Along the Watchtower” that marked the end of a very satisfying night of music and revelry.