The inviting chime of a 12-string acoustic guitar opened Dave Mason’s set at the High Point Theatre on Saturday night. Its unmistakable sound harkens back to that of the sitar, the instrument that Mason often wielded during his days in the larger-than-life ’60s psychedelic pop band Traffic.
The timelessness of these songs is evident. Almost 50 years after they were released, Mason is still selling out theaters relying heavily on Traffic’s catalogue. The set was split in two, the first half consisting of Traffic songs, the second half from his post-Traffic solo days. While Mason was visibly more enthusiastic about his own work, playing them with the fluidity and showmanship that one expects from an artist baring his soul through meaningful lyrics and catchy turnarounds, the majority of the crowd-pleasers came in the Traffic portion of his performance on Nov. 15.
Songs like “Medicated Goo” and “Paper Sun” elicited raucous crowd responses as projections of records spinning and photographs of Mason and the rest of Traffic in their heyday screened behind him and his band as a reminder of the era that the the guitarist came into prominence.
In between songs, Mason regaled the crowd with stories of his hometown of Worcester, England, his and Jim Capaldi’s first band the Hellions and the communal cottage that Traffic inhibited in the late ’60s in Berkshire where many of their hits were written and first performed.
He remarked that their lack of electricity and running water made music the only thing they could really focus on at the time. Then he joked about the prevalence of cell phones, which won the favor of his predominantly Baby Boomer crowd.
The tour, dubbed Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam, is fueled by nostalgia. Even the name of the tour seems to say, “Hey, remember when I was relevant?”
Mason admitted before playing a guitar-laden version of Traffic’s hit “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” that he had nothing to do with the writing of the song.
It was for this reason exactly that when he closed the Traffic set with “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” I was excited to hear some songs he actually wrote. While the skill of Mason and his band was evident, and the songs were catchy and wonderfully played, there’s something more impressive about seeing an artist performing his own work.
He then told a touching story about his friendship with Traffic’s Jim Capaldi. After his death in 2005, Mason picked up a half-written Capaldi song and decided to finish it. What resulted was the song “How Do I Get To Heaven,” a slow and captivating ballad. Pictures of Mason and Capaldi flashed on the screen behind the band making the tune all the more relatable.
Mason seems content with letting his career rely on what he has already accomplished. Even his latest album Future’s Past, released earlier this year, consists almost entirely of remakes of songs, both from his tenure with Traffic and from his solo career. It comes with the territory, though. People want to hear the hits, even if they’re almost half a century old.
Still, with the skill of Mason and his band, playing the songs with unmatched fluidity and accuracy, it’s easy to see a new original album doing fairly well. He comes from the fringe of the scene that produced him, with more celebrated contemporaries the likes of Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney; the latter sold out the Greensboro Coliseum just a few weeks ago.
Mason’s pedigree makes his performance in High Point a happening. After leaving Traffic, he bounced around considerably. He had a short stint with the supergroup Derek & the Dominos, toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends and joined Fleetwood Mac for a short time in the mid ’90s.
Although the twinge of psychedelia, a staple of Mason’s music for years, was absent from his performance on Saturday, his polished sound was reminiscent of the music that many of his contemporaries are putting out today.