Dave Mason was disappointing.
That's the bottom line, though many in the audience would say otherwise -- particularly during the "Dave set," which would be telling enough in itself. Billed as
Dave Mason's Traffic Jam, the idea of Mason playing Traffic tunes -- the band he was a founding
member of, leaving in 1969 before the band's real heyday -- seems like a ploy simply to get people into the seats he couldn't fill as a solo artist. Hard to say for sure, again given the applause to the solo material, but in any event the Traffic material was unfulfilling on many levels.
Should I really expect Mason and his no-name band to sound like Traffic? No. Yet, the reality is that Mason's band simply wasn't up to the challenge either. Sure, they were all seasoned musicians most likely capable of playing anything, but the butchering of these songs made it feel more like a tribute band just getting its feet wet than a top-notch squad. As a friend put it: "That band looks like the stoners I hung out with high school, only older." They sounded like it too, with the guitarist routinely overplaying the solos on songs where controlled restraint helped define the Traffic sound. The keyboardist did his best Steve Winwood, which also was nowhere close. It was nice to hear tracks like "Medicated Goo," "Pearly Queen," Who Knows What Tomorrow May Bring," "Rock and Roll Stew" and "Heaven's In Your Mind," but these versions only make me want to dig out the vinyl and here the real thing. Nothing came close this evening during the Traffic set.
Ironically, Mason played Traffic songs he had nothing to do with, including a paltry "Low Spark of High Heeled Boys," which surprisingly drew some of the largest crowd response. Mason also took a History Channel approach to things, whether for spacing or because he really wanted the audience to learn about the band that he was barely attached to, coming and going at will. He did this by showing old photos on the video monitor and talking about the times that were, but it wasn't enough to convince the crowd of his sincerity of what Traffic was or created.
Bottom line: he was a sideman then, and a cover artist now. After an our of Traffic songs, Mason's "second" set -- "Usually we take a break now and then it's the Dave show," he told the crowd -- featured a hit parade of his more popular hits. Mason began "his" set with "We Just Disagree" to a near standing ovation. "World in Changes" followed and it was clear the solo material was a bigger draw. After 45 minutes Mason closed with what was perhaps his biggest hit, "Feeling Alright." Clearly feeling insecure, Mason went to great lengths to emphasize to the audience that despite the fact the song has been covered by almost 50 artists, and that Joe Cocker had the biggest hit with the song in 1969, "I wrote it. I wrote it." Someone definitely feels slighted.
Little known fact: Mason actually performed on Jimi Hendrix's version of "All Along the Watchtower," which closed out the show this evening.
All in all, a disappointing night better spent drinking margaritas with friends, which is what I was doing before watching this Traffic Jam never get clear of itself.
Last Night:Dave Mason's Traffic Jam
Personal Bias: Was slighted by Mason in 1986 when he "played" a solo show with a broken finger and really didn't do anything. As a Traffic fan, I was willing to give him another chance.
Overheard: "Feel like I'm on cruise ship," by the guy next too me lamenting the poor quality of the performance and hodge-podge band.
Audience: Older and trying not to look older, if you know what I mean.
Random Notebook Dump: "I guess Mason has the right to play these songs since he was originally on them, but in this form, he shouldn't."
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