In Concert: Nick Mason Pours Chicago a Saucerful

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, The Chicago Theatre, April 4, 2019.

“After twenty years, I got tired of waiting for the phone to ring.”

Always quick with a quip, drummer Nick Mason tossed off that one during the first lull in his new band’s voyage through Pink Floyd’s early catalog.  Dryly diplomatic and subtly duplicitous (it’s actually been 25 years since Mason last played in North America, 14 since the Live 8 Floyd reunion), it was nonetheless revealing.

In recent years, Roger Waters has trotted his favorite era of Floyd (first The Wall, then a Dark Side of the Moon through Animals-based set) around the globe; David Gilmour toured his solo album Rattle That Lock, then decided to auction off his guitar collection for charity, keeping the door firmly shut on nostalgia following Rick Wright’s passing.  Mason, on the other hand, has dug deep into the history of the band he co-founded — prepping the massive box set The Early Years with Gilmour, then working on the touring memorabilia exhibition Their Mortal Remains.   So when Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris and post-Waters Floyd bassist Guy Pratt suggested a group focusing on the pre-stardom Floyd repertoire, Mason was itching to give it a whirl.

It’s a great idea.  Freed from the expectation of playing the hits, Saucerful of Secrets dives headlong into a rich stream of psychedelia, prog and pastoral balladry, setting back the clock to when Pink Floyd’s audience had no idea what was coming next.  And there’s something for everybody here: trippy blues barrages “Interstellar Overdrive”, “Astronomy Domine” and “One of These Days”; the whimsical Syd Barrett-led singles “Arnold Layne” and “See Emily Play”, along with Barrett’s later, profoundly disturbing “Bike” and “Vegetable Man”; hushed, acoustic post-Barrett meditations like “If” and “Green Is the Colour”; the bludgeoning rock of “The Nile Song” and “Childhood’s End”; and extended free-form explorations of “Atom Heart Mother”, “Let There Be More Light” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun”.

Tackling this wide range of material, the quintet was tight enough to keep the audience engaged, but loose enough to veer into clamorous group improvisation as the mood (frequently) struck them.  Pratt and rhythm guitarist Gary Kemp (best known as the main songwriter for Spandau Ballet) divvied up the lead vocals and drove the tunes forward, with Pratt cracking occasional jokes about absent Floyds during breaks; Harris spun off one obliquely creative solo after another on a bevy of guitars; Dom Beken captured Rick Wright’s spectrum of tasty keyboard colors and open chord voicings to perfection.

But ultimately, it was Mason’s show.  Sometimes damned with faint praise like “the best drummer for Pink Floyd,” his fine playing reminded me of Ringo Starr  (another criminally underrated drummer) onstage.  Self-deprecating about his lack of technique in interviews, Mason turns any limitations into assets by laying down an immovably solid beat, leaving plenty of space for his fellow players, and embellishing the grooves in simple, ear-catching ways (his malletwork on tom toms being the most famous example).   His reward?  Finally getting to play the gong on “Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun” for this tour. (Mason’s spoken intro: “Roger Waters is one of my best friends, a brilliant musician, a brilliant songwriter — and not good at sharing.”)

So unlike later Pink Floyd tours, including The Division Bell outing I saw in 1994, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets isn’t about the spectacle (though the light show was fabulous), or the star power.  Rather, it’s about the music — and about the accomplished crew of players that bring these neglected Floyd gems alive in the moment, headed by the drummer who’s somehow become the most stalwart conservator of his band’s legacy.  For the 3,000 appreciative fans that rewarded Mason and his compatriots with a tumultuous standing ovation, that was enough.

Setlist:

  • Interstellar Overdrive
  • Astronomy Domine
  • Lucifer Sam
  • Fearless
  • Obscured by Clouds
  • When You’re In
  • Remember a Day
  • Arnold Layne
  • Vegetable Man
  • If
  • Atom Heart Mother/If (Reprise)
  • The Nile Song
  • Green Is the Colour
  • Let There Be More Light
  • Childhood’s End
  • Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
  • See Emily Play
  • Bike
  • One of These Days
  • A Saucerful of Secrets
  • Point Me at the Sky

— Rick Krueger

On Tour in 2019: Nick Mason Plays Early Pink Floyd!

As announced on — appropriately enough — October 31, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason will bring his new band Saucerful of Secrets (or, in an example of Mason’s typically dry wit, “Not The Australian Roger Waters”)  to North America in the spring of 2019.  The tour will mark Mason’s first live shows in the Western Hemisphere since Floyd’s Division Bell extravanganza prowled the continent’s football stadiums back in 1994.

With the blessing of both Roger Waters and David Gilmour in his back pocket, Mason is focusing on pre-Dark Side of the Moon Floyd; setlists for SoS’ shows have included tracks from Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, Atom Heart Mother, More, Meddle and Obscured by Clouds,  along with early Floyd singles and B-sides.  In Mason’s words, “With the help of some like-minded friends, I have embarked on a voyage of discovery of the music that was the launchpad of Pink Floyd and my working life.  It seems too early to retire, and I missed the interaction with other musicians.”

Debuting with four small London gigs this past May, Saucerful of Secrets completed a European theater tour in September.  The North American tour will be similar in scope, with Mason and his cohorts (Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris, Spandau Ballet guitarist/vocalist Gary Kemp, post-Roger Waters Floyd bassist Guy Pratt and Transit Kings keyboardist Dom Beken) bringing their show to 2500-3500 seat venues.

Presales for the first block of shows have already begun, with public sales starting on Monday, November 5.  Tour dates are listed below; more info is available at Ticketmaster.

March 12, 2019 – Vancouver, BC @ Queen Elizabeth Theatre
March 13 – Seattle, WA @ The Paramount
March 15 – San Francisco, CA @ The Masonic
March 16 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern
March 19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Comerica Theatre
March 21 – Denver, CO @ Paramount Theatre
March 24 – Dallas, TX @ The Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory
March 25 – Houston, TX @ Jones Hall for the Performing Arts
March 27 – Miami Beach, FL @ Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater
March 29 – Atlanta, GA @ Tabernacle
March 31 – St. Louis, MO @ Stifel Theatre
April 1 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Riverside Theater
April 3 – Minneapolis, MN @ Orpheum Theatre
April 4 – Chicago, IL @ The Chicago Theatre
April 5 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Old National Centre
April 7 – Columbus, OH @ Palace Theatre
April 8 – Akron, OH @ Akron Civic Theatre
April 9 -Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore Detroit
April 11 – Buffalo, NY @ Shea’s Performing Arts Center
April 12 – Wallingford, CT @ Oakdale Theatre
April 13 – Boston, MA @ Orpheum Theatre
April 15 – Montreal, QC @ Place des Arts
April 16 – Toronto, ON @ Sony Centre for the Performing Arts
April 18 – New York, NY @ Beacon Theatre
April 22 – Washington, DC @ DAR Constitution Hall

(And yes, having experienced The Division Bell-era Floyd in concert at the late unlamented Pontiac Silverdome — the only rock show I’ve ever attended where, even at full volume, I was able to go without earplugs for the entire night — I grabbed a ticket for the Chicago stop today.)

If you want a generous sample of what Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets has to offer, check out their recent Copenhagen show:

— Rick Krueger

1969: A Blast from the Past

“Well it’s 1969 OK all across the USA
It’s another year for me and you
                                      Another year with nothing to do”  — 1969, The Stooges

I was 7 going on 8 in 1969.  But my brother was ten years older — and Detroit was a prime location to explore rock as it turned psychedelic, then progressive, still with plenty of punk attitude.  Our cousin from Lansing was about the same age as my brother — so they did a fair amount of concertgoing together.

The other day, out of the blue I got a letter from our cousin, reproduced below with my random thoughts interspersed:

Dear Cousin Rick,

I’m sending along a copy of the program from the festival I attended in the south of England summer of 1969.  I thought you might it interesting.

plumpton festival program(Hmmm … The 9th National Jazz and Blues Festival.  Waitaminute: Pink Floyd?  King Crimson?  Peter Hammill performing solo before the first Van Der Graaf Generator album? Yes?  The Who?  Keith Emerson with The Nice?  Not to mention Soft Machine and Pentangle?  And he was there? Doggone straight I find it interesting.  Please continue, cousin!)

I’d seen both The Who and The Nice at the Grande Ballroom in the spring before.  The Who played the entire Tommy opera both times.  The Nice as I remember had some kind of revolving organ at the Grande.  At the Plumpton fest they closed the show on Sunday backed by a large orchestra.  At the final song the stage opened and a regiment of bagpipers marched off the stage and into the crowd.  Those were heady times.

isle of wight 1969There’s also a copy of the Isle of Wight festival flier which I missed as it was the weekend which we were heading home.  Such fond memories.

(Bob Dylan & The Band?  The Moody Blues?  More from King Crimson, The Who and Pentangle?  Stop torturing me, cousin!!!  Actually, no — please continue as I wrestle with envy and wish Doctor Who’s TARDIS was real.)

The day we arrived in London the Rolling Stones played in Hyde Park celebrating the life of Brian Jones who had just passed.  Couldn’t quite get there but almost.  (Another King Crimson show!!)

I’d like to hear more about your music blogging/reviews.    P.S.  We didn’t arrive at the fest until Saturday so we missed all the Friday acts.  Booo!

Fortunately, the sounds of the Plumpton Festival aren’t completely lost in the mists of time; I plan to direct my cousin to Soft Machine’s and Pink Floyd’s sets online, and send him a copy of King Crimson’s set.

detroit rr revival 1969And talking with my brother later, I heard the story of how he and my cousin somehow got permission to go to the 1969 Detroit Rock’n’Roll Revival (with the MC5, Chuck Berry, Dr. John, The “Psychedelic” Stooges and many more acts) the night before my sister’s wedding.  Maybe I should rethink missing Yes’ 50th Anniversary Tour when it hits Grand Rapids.  Not to mention Wayne Kramer’s MC50 Kick Out the Jams 50th Anniversary Tour and Soft Machine’s world tour coming to Progtoberfest IV

— Rick Krueger

Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report

by Rick Krueger

On Friday, October 20, hundreds of dedicated proggers converged on Chicago from around the country — and even from across the globe.  The location: Reggie’s Rock Club & Music Joint on the Near South Side, only two blocks away from the former Chess Records, the birthplace of great discs by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and countless others.

Reggie’s has two main rooms, both dedicated to Progtoberfest this weekend.  The Rock Club is designed for concerts, with a raised stage, a main floor, an upper level mezzanine —and a wire fence decor motif throughout.  The Music Joint has a tinier stage tucked into the back of a narrow bar and grill.  This weekend, merch tables were crammed into every inch remaining on the main floor, and patrons less interested in the music (or needing a break from the density of the sound) took advantage of Friday and Saturday’s warm weather to eat and drink at sidewalk tables.  An upstairs space that held a record store until recently was turned into the VIP/Meet and Greet lounge for the duration.


Due to the usual complications of traveling to and around Chicago as the weekend starts, I got to my spot in the Rock Club just as Schooltree was taking the stage.  With only an hour on the schedule, they powered through highlights of their Heterotopia album, condensing the narrative to zoom in on its main character Suzi.  The set left no doubt that Lainey Schooltree is a major talent; her songwriting chops, keyboard skills and vocal versatility all came through loud and clear, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  The rest of the band bopped along brilliantly too, with the ebullient energy of Peter Danilchuk on organ and synth leading the way.


The crowd for Schooltree was solid, but hometown heroes District 97 were the first group to pack the place, filling both seats and standing room on the main floor.   The band took no prisoners, blasting right into riff-heavy highlights from their three albums that showed off every player’s monster chops.  Soaring above the din, Leslie Hunt pulled in the crowd with her astonishing vocal power and range.  New songs were mixed in that sent the audience head-banging and prog-pogoing with abandon.

Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report”

Rick’s Quick Takes: Is This the Life We Really Want? by Roger Waters

by Rick Krueger

When it comes to Pink Floyd, I usually prefer the atmospheric to the polemic: i.e.  “Echoes,” Wish You Were Here, and even A Momentary Lapse of Reason to Animals, The Wall and The Final Cut.  True, Roger Waters’ growing desire to beat the listener over the head with his irascible critiques of modern life brought the Floyd to new heights of popularity — but they also helped poison relationships with his collaborators and blow up the band, leading to a solo career with much lower impact.  Until, that is, he pulled out the vintage Floyd warhorses and started touring them again, to deserved acclaim.

For me, Is This the Life We Really Want?  strikes a welcome new balance between the prototypical Floyd sound and Waters’ ongoing preoccupations.   It’s the most listenable and perhaps the most effective of his solo albums, harking back to Dark Side of the Moon in its precision and its muted (but undampened) fury.

Nigel Godrich’s lean, colorful production helps immensely here, keeping the musical tension on the boil throughout.  Ironically, it also helps that Waters’ voice has aged; no longer able to bellow with his previous venom, he insinuates and rasps instead. Especially when his singing is paired with acoustic guitar or piano, you can more easily hear the blunt, direct expressiveness he admires in his heroes — early Dylan, Neil Young, John Lennon circa Plastic Ono Band and Imagine.  Funnily, lowering the volume of his complaints makes them more compelling.

Another surprise: Waters owns the culpability he so thoroughly excoriates in the world around him (notice the pronoun in the album title).   The songs still take plenty of scabrous, deeply profane potshots, earned and unearned, at Stuff Roger Thinks is Bad and at People He Utterly Despises.  But he’s also quick to call himself out, and to stand in solidarity with the masses, even if he believes they’re dead wrong.  “Broken Bones” and the title track are the best examples; they pull no punches, but Waters makes no excuses for himself, laying out his own neglect and indifference, calling himself to accountability along with everyone else. (The judgmentalism is diminished; the ambition, not so much.)

In sum, Is This The Life We Really Want? comes from a Roger Waters who seems more vulnerable and less inclined to condemn humanity wholesale — but not soft by any means.  After 25 years without an album of new rock material, it’s good to know that there’s life in the old boy yet.

Slowdive: Things New and Old

unnamed-31Reviewing Slowdive’s eponymous new album, their first in 22 years, Clash’s Robin Murray made a statement bound to pique the interest of progarchists:

“It feels at times like early King Crimson, or Pink Floyd’s post-Syd/pre-Dark Side nexus. It’s the sound of a band forgetting who they were, and embracing who they could become.”

That second statement is undeniably true. Slowdive (released May 5 on the Dead Oceans label) is unmistakably the work of the same quintet that disbanded between 1995 to 2014. But it’s not a reunion record of rehashed old ideas. It would also be correct to say the band’s music has more in common with Floyd than, say, punk rock. Among their signature showpieces is a majestic, slow-burning cover of Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair.” But Lark’s Tongue in Aspic? Other listeners can judge.

Guitarist/songwriter Neil Halstead grew up in a home where orchestral music was preferred to pop, and that influence is strongly apparent in tracks like the stirring “Catch the Breeze” (1991). While Slowdive can’t be classified as prog, their body of work has occupied spaces progarchists can appreciate: ambient, avant-garde, dream pop, and experimental, all under the broader classification of shoe-gazing. In this vein no other band sounds like Slowdive.

The cover art for Slowdive features a frame from Harry Smith’s 1957 avant-garde animated film, Heaven and Earth Magic. Composed of cut-out figures set in motion, the narrative includes a sequence involving a female patient sedated for a dental procedure. The darkened profile depicts her state of semi-consciousness, or perhaps heightened awareness. Or both.

Shoe-gazing refers not to the contemplative state of the listener (though it could) but rather the guitarists staring down at the array of effects pedals used to achieve other-worldly sounds. None are better at this than Slowdive’s Halstead and Christian Savill. On the new record that prowess is everywhere present.

But Slowdive also contains a refined attention to detail and form. The pace of the songs is faster. Nick Chaplin’s bass and Simon Scott’s drums thunder out front instead of being obscured by clouds of guitar effects, e.g. “No Longer Making Time.” And instead of a metronomic build-up common in earlier work there are tempo and time changes, e.g. “Don’t Know Why” and “Go Get It.” But as on previous records Rachel Goswell’s voice moves through the mix and around Halstead’s vocals like a spirit, e.g. “Sugar for the Pill,” the album’s emotional epicenter.

The closer, “Fallen Ashes,” may be a preview of things to come. Showcasing Scott’s abilities with laptop software, it embellishes and pushes a hypnotic piano riff to sublimity à la Jonny Greenwood.

Overall, Slowdive is familiar but with more sculpted contours and sharper pin pricks than in times past — a welcomed development.

All of this works from a context of two-decades’ old material still very much in view, still relevant, still captivating. I had the great fortune to catch Slowdive in Carrboro, NC at the next-to-last date on the North American leg of their current tour. Blending half the new album with old material, Slowdive overwhelmed the audience with canyons of sound.

I spotted a few fellow 50-somethings in the music hall. But more than a few of the audience weren’t even born when this Thames Valley gang first started making music as teenagers. Having fallen quickly out of fashion years ago with a press enamored to Britpop and cool Britannia, then beckoned back to life by an emerging cult following, Slowdive have a word for souls fearing rejection without redemption: No, this is what we do, and done well time will vindicate it.

After opening with “Slomo” from the new album the band followed with “Catch the Breeze,” with Savill, Goswell, and Halstead leaning toward the floor, wailing guitars swelling to orchestral heights.

The breeze it blows, it blows everything

And I, I want the world to pass

And I, I want the sun to shine

You can believe in everything

You can believe it all…

During the rapturous finale I glanced to my left. A couple of people were actually weeping. Heaven and earth magic, indeed.

Slowdive at Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro, NC, May 10, 2017. Photo by the author.

 

Prog? In the EYE of the Behearer

Founding members Brandon Smith (drums) and Lisa Bella Donna (keys, guitar, voices) are joined with new members Michael Sliclen (bass) and John Finley (guitars) in the Columbus, Ohio band: Eye. Their November 2016 five track album, “Vision and Ageless Light,” is a Laser’s Edge release which is also available at Amazon.com.

A droning electronic synth with some tinkling bell noises starts of the first 40 seconds of the opening track ‘Book of The Dead’ (3:34) until joined by some synth strings. The tune sort of meanders around on a two to four note theme that is somber and quirky…until at the 2-minute mark there’s a loud KING CRIMSON-ish crescendo of drums and more synths. This is followed by some nice runs of analogue sounding effects that made me think of Klaus Schulze and “Timewind.” This cool opening song ends with some bird noises.

The dueling riffage between the organ and axe at the end of track 2, ‘Kill the Slavemaster’ (6:04) caps off a rollicking and galloping “desert” rocker that is loaded with stoner vocals, synth horns and a section with enough chimes and keys to verge into Jazz fusion. This is a beautiful example of “throwback” (i.e. retro) psych/sludge that brings to mind newer bands such as Purson, Orchid, Kadaver, or Uncle Acid. There is a kinship between this type of protégé of Sabbath and harder prog.

‘Searching’ (5:29) with its hard-rock opening continues the Black Sabbath vibe (minus Iommi) with its chugging and relentless guitar & bass propelling it along in a way that made me think of an “amped up” Steppenwolf. The song ends with a few seconds of outer space beeps and bleeps effects noises.

As a big Lovecraft fan (the author more so than the band) I was predisposed to like track four on its title alone: ‘Dweller of the Twilight Void’ (4:01).  And though it wasn’t quite what I thought it might be it was still a strong offering. The nice slow guitar at the start is joined by the harmonizing of Brandon, Lisa, and Michael in a mournful dirge like vocal. At the end of the piece the nice use of Lisa’s mellotron and synths deliver a spacey “prog folk” meets “Forbidden Planet.”

Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and indoor

Though the first four tracks might have a dearth of some of the classic components many proggers look for in their music, the final track with its epic length of 27 minutes should win Eye some bona fides points. ‘As Sure as the Sun’ (27:11) starts with a brief soft acoustic guitar with a babbling brook of water that almost brings to mind Rush and 2112 (you know the section). This bubbly and dreamy opening is joined at 2:45 with some soundtrack “cue” music heavily topped with mellotron and synths. The whole album is infused with tasty shredding by John Finley, and he really shines on this closing monster of a track. With the changes in tempo and the mixture of vocals, the song images early Nektar and early King Crimson before it shape-shifts off to honor some more of the bands’ 70s heroes. For what it’s worth I heard what made me think of Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf at 10:30.

Vision And Ageless Light

Derivative or homage? I think the latter. This is like early Pink Floyd meeting Blue Cheer with a seltzer of Anekdoten shot on the top. If you like Krautrock and the burgeoning revival of sludge/psych prog of the many bands that I’ve mentioned, I really think you should give Eye your ear. “Vision and Ageless Light” can be streamed at Bandcamp, and the group can be followed at Facebook. I find the album very enjoyable, playful, and worth listening to again.  7/10

Eye Facebook page

Eye Bandcamp page

 

Mellotron set to 11