On a night meant for lovers, American singer songwriter Willy Mason marks his long awaited return, and Getintothis’ Howard Doupé trades his bow and arrow for blues and sorrow.
Will Mason has not visited these parts since Sound City 2012, but the quaint surrounding of one 81 Renshaw Street seems fitting for tonight’s return.
Judging by his past popularity it’s no surprise that this gig sold out ages ago. Is Willy Mason calling all those music loving lovers of the city or more a gathering of the singletons of St. Valentines?
81 Renshaw is one of those venues where a bar order could be taken from the stage without even being shouted and tonight the early mood is calm. With just enough space to squeeze a hundred bodies into, the side seats are quickly filled from an audience representing every physically possible generation- it seems Mason has a very wide appeal.
Before taking to the stage as part of Mason’s backing band, Nina Violet warms those present. Her delicate fingerpicking and a velvety voice carries imagery of a more tender age. With people still cramming their way in they are attentive throughout the set. Although none of these melodies scream originality, like every worthy songsmith Violet’s vocals take you on a journey- a road trip where you feel compelled to look afar out the window, fearful of missing a breath.
The addition of some brass and woodwind from members of the extended touring band really add to the haunting quality of the tunes aired from her new cassette only EP Untitled. These are songs full of the wisdom your grandma tried to tell you, once upon a time when you wouldn’t listen. Violet wistfully knows the struggles of life, the burden of a soul. The wise take note.
It’s not long till Mason takes to the stage confronted by an upbeat and vibrant crowd, appreciative of their heart-shaped balloon Valentines gifts. It seems a well-matched gig is equal to or even surpasses the alternative option of staying in for a romantic two-for-one meal deal.
Before a note is played, the first crowd-funded grenade of the night is thrown. From the back comes screaming ‘know any Elvis?’ Without acknowledgement Mason dives into All Shook Up– not just a line or token verse but the whole damn song. As the accompanying band finish with him, the cheer shows the appreciation. That answer good enough for you?
The touring band really brings a spiked edge to Mason’s own brand of storytelling. It’s great to hear this on songs from 2007’s If The Oceans Get Rough. A more stripped-down feel bringing greater depth and meaning.
Of course, it’s the solo moments that the most appreciation is saved. Oxygen (well he had to play it) arrives surprisingly mid-set. The crowd want it and here’s the singalong. Even more surprising is Mason’s nod to l’amour, which comes in the form of a cover of Eddy Arnold’s Slowpoke.
Hard Hand to Hold feels like an old campfire song that draws the weary in and comforts the needy. Restless Fugitive from his last long player comes swanning in next, swelling with the broader live sound. Fear No Pain comes alive with the vocal harmonies on offer, a demanding chain gang song for the modern generation- should the armies of pedal-powered delivery riders ever find themselves in need of an arms to call. If the response to the track that shares its name with Mason’s debut is evidence – the answer is a glorious ‘yes!’
After We Can Be Strong, Shadows In The Dark and Save Myself, Talk Me Down leads into I Got Gold. All of a sudden the balloons re-appear ping-ponging above heads as an all-out hoedown verges upon eruption.
Cheeky till the end, a suggestion from one punter that knickers should be thrown in adulation is heard as Snickers. The banter flows, ‘That’s junk food mate, you’ll regret it in the end’ responds Mason.
After an open invitation for requests Our Town starts mid song lyric-blank brings the crowd to the rescue, it’s beautiful to feel the love. Tonight’s promoters WAAIL certainly got it right putting Mason on at 81 Renshaw Street – just don’t leave it so bloody long next time!
Photos by Getintothis’ Tomas Adam