What they are saying about the acoustic shows...

I used to be a big Dave Mason fan, first being introduced to him when he was with Traffic and followed his stellar career, his working with so many legendary performers, and into his solo career in the 1970’s. But after that I had “lost track” of him, so I was very excited to have the opportunity to attend his concert at Mayne Stage.

The opening act was Alex Drizos, who had been with Dave Mason serving as his bass player and tour manager. As he took the stage he welcomed all the “aging hippies” in attendance and I must say, it definitely was an older crowd and he was not far from the truth. I have to say that Alex gave a terrific performance. He sang all classic rock cover tunes in his 45 minute set, Brandy, The Letter, Danny’s Song, Love Will Keep Us Alive (an Eagles classic which he said was written by Jim Capaldi, which I did not know), Black Water, The Joker, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Two Tickets to Paradise. He talked about each of the songs and his (or Dave Mason’s) connection to it or the performer. He had an easy manner about him and his stories were interesting. He also had a great voice and performed great renditions of the songs. He really got the audience going and on the majority of songs had the audience singing along with him. He left the stage to a standing ovation from a very appreciative audience.

The concert was to be an acoustic set with Dave Mason accompanied by a bassist and another guitarist. Dave Mason came on stage to the introduction of being a “Rock and Roll Hall of Famer” (an honor he gained in 2004 as a founding member of Traffic). Dave Mason’s career has continued for over 50 years and he is still going strong. At 18 years of age, he joined the legendary band Traffic. Following his stint with Traffic, he went on to have a distinguished solo career, collaborating with a number of the greats in rock including Jimi Hendrix, George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, Cass Elliot, Rita Coolidge, Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell, Ron Wood, Phoebe Snow, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, and Jim Capaldi. Mason is a prolific artist, having written over 100 songs and recorded many hit singles.

Mason’s band had pretty solid rock lineage as well. The aforementioned Alex Drizos who played bass and sang background vocals has toured off and on with Dave Mason for 15 years. He has worked with Pat Boone, Jim Capaldi, Edgar Winter, Ambrosia, Eddie Money, and even Donna Summer. The guitarist Johnne Sambataro also has impressive credentials. Some of the artists he had performed or recorded with included Andy Gibb, Barry Gibb, Stephen Stills, Eric Clapton, Peter Frampton, Meat Loaf, David Coverdale / Jimmy Page, Dave Mason, McGuinn Clark & Hillman (the Byrds), Dion, and Firefall. So it goes without saying this was one talented (and experienced) band who really did deliver! (The preceding bio information about Dave Mason and his band came from the website davemasonmusic.com)

Dave Mason opened the concert with the song The World is Changing. He was playing a twelve string guitar and pretty much remained playing rhythm guitar all night. Johnne Sambataro played lead guitar and was truly very impressive. Mason was in great voice, his vocals were strong, clear and he effortlessly hit the high notes.

He then played a couple of classic Traffic songs, 40,000 Headmen and Dear Mr. Fantasy. He mentioned that he did a rewrite on Dear Mr. Fantasy, a version to better suit an acoustic performance. Although that song is one of my favorites, the rewrite was interesting and I did enjoy it.

He then switched to his other twelve string guitar and said that he was going to perform Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Loving because I am a “sensitive S.O.B.” I noted that every once in a while he would release his left hand off the neck of the guitar, almost like it was bothering him (the scourge of age?). The crowd loved the song and gave an enthusiastic ovation.

Someone from the crowd yelled out “We love you” and he smiled back at them. He then began to play his big solo hit We Just Disagree and the audience just loved it, resulting in the loudest ovation of the night to this point.

Once again someone yelled “We still love you” and he responded back “Love you more.” As the night progressed he continued to interact with the crowd and he seemed to get more energized by it. But I have to admit there were some in the crowd who were “overserved” and their behavior bordered upon obnoxious as I was trying to hear what he was saying but could not sometimes because of their noisy, raucous cacophony.

He said that he has not done acoustic shows since the 1970’s and he does not get to play much lead in these shows. (I personally was a bit disappointed as I had hoped to hear some guitar wizardry from Dave Mason, but Johnne Sambataro proved to be an extremely talented guitarist and I, and I know the audience, were very impressed by his playing.) Dave Mason went on to extol the virtues of Sambataro and then introduced him to sing a couple of songs. From 1981 – 1989 Sambataro was the lead singer of “Firefall” and sang two of their monster hits, Just Remember I Love You and Strange   Way, absolute treats. Dave Mason sat on a chair and played lead on these songs.

Mason then related a story about Bob Dylan. He said how Bob Dylan came up to him one time and imitating Bob Dylan’s voice said how he liked that great song Mason wrote, Every Woman. Particularly on this version of the song there were great vocal harmonies with the three band members and the song was nicely done.

He then introduced a new song, Good 2 U, which was really bluesy and there was some inspired blues guitar from Johnne Sambataro. Mason really seemed to be into it as well and he gave a spirited vocal performance.

By this time the talking and din in the audience in the area I was began to get worse. He was trying to talk and someone who thought they were clever started yelling for “Watchtower” and Mason said “we don’t do that anymore, and if we did, I’d have to leave. We’ll get there, but a little foreplay first.” He introduced a new song, which I unfortunately could not hear the name of because of the noisy people …sorry. (Before the show I had asked Alex Drizos, who I had met, if they had a set list and he said there is none, we just kind of wing it). But Mason said this song was available for download on davemasonmusic.com. I did visit the site myself and am now a member.

Mason then went into a bit of a synopsis of his relationship with Jim Capaldi and spoke of his untimely death due to stomach cancer. He mentioned someone had brought him a song that Capaldi had been working on at the time of his death and Mason said the lyrics were outstanding but the music was depressing, almost “Leonard Cohen-like,” so he rewrote the music. He then performed the song, How Do I Get to Heaven, which was well-received by the audience.

He then mentioned that he had lived inChicagofor 10-11 years but is now in California. He said he loves Chicagoand some of his dearest friends are here. He then tried his best as an Englishman to speak some Chicagoese with a “Fuggetabboudit” which the crowd loved. He talked about how Chicago is a great blues town and then the band performed an old Elmore James song. It was a very spirited performance both singing and playing. The audience was screaming and howling with delight. Sambataro had his best solos of the night and proved to me that he is an accomplished blues guitarist. The crowd really enjoyed this song and gave a standing ovation.

Mason then said that it is time for another sensitive piece. He mentioned that this song was in his top thirty hits, Sad and Deep as You. What a wonderful song and equally wonderfully performed.

He then talked about the LA music scene and how he and Cass Elliot (from the Mamas and the Papas) collaborated on an album together. He said it was a strange pairing, but it really worked. He then talked about how he got to know Delany and Bonnie. During the Blind Faith tour, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends were the opening act with Dave Mason as lead guitarist. He said at that time he had “long hair and a 28 inch waist.’ He then performed a song he had written for them, a huge hit, Only You Know and I Know. The performance was very spirited, Sambataro was so animated on the guitar and showed a lot of personality on stage. One couple in our section got up spontaneously and started to dance. The audience rose and gave a rousing standing ovation.

The next song he introduced was one of his big hits and he said it has probably been covered more than fifty times. He had written it between the first and second Traffic albums when he took a break on a Greek island, where he was eating “anise bread, feta cheese and Retsina.” He said this was the song that really made Joe Cocker, whose version was probably best known. He then went into Feelin’ Alright and implored the audience to join in, which they did so enthusiastically. That song closed out the set and there was a well-deserved standing ovation.

When he came back for the encore the audience was beseeching him to perform “Watchtower.” He then said “I’ll do it, otherwise I might get shot.” He then related how he hung out with Jimi Hendrix and made a lot of recordings, but did not know what happened to them. On the Hendrix album “Electric Ladyland” Mason sang background vocals on Crosstown Traffic but even more notable, played the acoustic guitar on the monster rock classic All Along the Watchtower. The band performed a superb acoustic version of this song. Although acoustic it was not diminished one bit and could stand on its own merits. The guitar work of Sambataro was a definite highlight. The audience rose as one and roared their approval with another standing ovation. It was a fitting end to a thoroughly enjoyable concert experience.

One of the things I have noticed since I have been covering concerts with the classic rock acts, Greg Lake, Steve Winwood, Jon Anderson and now Dave Mason, all of these men in their mid-60’s, there is one constant….talent. This talent endures despite the advancing years and trumps all. What has made these concerts especially interesting is that each of the artists maintained a rapport with the audience (not with Winwood because he played in a large venue) telling stories of their formative years as rock idols. It is truly an outstanding opportunity to see them in these smaller venues so you can really get to “know them a bit better” and develop a greater appreciation for them.

The Dave Mason concert fit that pattern. Musically and vocally he still had it. But it was his stories and experiences that he shared with the audience that made this concert experience a treasure….maybe not so much for some of the young whippersnappers, but for aging rockers like myself, it is priceless.

Be sure to visit davemasonmusic.com as it is a nice website with lots of information and free downloads. If you missed this unplugged concert, he is returning to Chicagoland on July 21st 2012 and will be playing in the Village of Vernon Hills. The date is on his website, no more information, but I suspect that it will be a community festival and if that is the case it may even be free! If my review whetted your appetite, take the opportunity to see him as you will not be disappointed.

As far as the venue for this concert goes, the Mayne Stage very much had a club atmosphere. There really was not a bad seat in the house. I was in the balcony and had a great view. The sound was just fine. The only negative was the parking. There was virtually no parking on the street because of the construction on the “El” tracks which caused the road to be closed. However, I used the valet parking, it was only five dollars and I was very well satisfied.

Reviewed by Peter S. Sakas on 6/30/12

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