Steve Mason @ Union Stage – April 24th 2024
Steve Mason @ Union Stage – April 24th 2024

Live Review: Steve Mason @ Union Stage – April 24th 2024

“I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band.” These words, spoken by John Cusack in the 2000 hit film High Fidelity, almost certainly sold a lot more than five copies of the record which compiled the group’s three early EP releases. It was also almost certainly the first exposure that many in the US had to the group, as audiences watched as Cusack put “Dry the Rain” on the CD player and various shoppers around the record store slowly began to nod their heads to the music (before the whole idyllic scene was disrupted by teens attempting to steal merchandise).

The Beta Band lasted for another few years after that film before going their separate ways, though all stayed in music to one extent or another. The most prolific in his post-Betas career by far, though, has been frontman Steve Mason, who has since released five albums under his own name as well as one each under the names King Biscuit Time and Black Affair. His latest, Brothers & Sisters, came out last year to critical acclaim. The 50-minute long record combines in world music and electronica, a gospel choir, and even vocals by Pakistani singer Javed Bashir on two tracks, while still managing to sound distinctly like Mason. A highly political album (Mason has never been one to shy away from politics, but this one is his most charged yet, taking on issues including Brexit and imperialism), it is one of his best so far and is bound to become a classic.

And yet, Mason hadn’t been back to the US since The Beta Band toured here in 2002. A planned tour in 2013 fell through less than two weeks before it was scheduled to commence (thanks to the dreaded “visa issues” which continually plague artists attempting to perform here), and when last fall’s scheduled dates didn’t happen, fans could almost certainly be excused for thinking “oh no, not again.” It felt like a trip to the UK (yup, we did that) would remain the only chance of seeing him. Fortunately the shows were postponed, not cancelled, this time, and the new tour dates finally happened. Amongst those was a stop last Wednesday at Union Stage in Washington, DC.

Of course Mason’s music has only gotten more complex and orchestrated, and the costs and difficulties of touring in the US (especially for an international artist) being what they are, brining the full band required to duplicate such a production on stage is virtually impossible. Instead the performance consisted of a duo of Mason on vocals, guitar, and various bits of percussion, and his compatriot Darren Morris playing keyboards, triggering samples, and providing backing vocals. Pre-recorded backing tracks figured in extensively. A lesser artist might have struggled to maintain interest with such a setup, but Mason’s energetic stage presence held it together, bouncing to the music, shaking a tambourine in the air, breaking from singing to play bongos, and at one point even stopping to do pushups.

Mason has long said that he strongly prefers to look forward rather than back, concentrating his live performances on his solo material and playing few Beta Band tracks. Yet, perhaps in concession to American audiences who might not have kept up with his every move over the last two decades (several of his solo albums weren’t released here at all, and those that were didn’t get nearly the kind of promotion they got in the UK), he played multiple songs by his old band, including “Dog’s Got a Bone,” “Dr. Baker,” and “Squares.” Most of the rest of the show, though focused on Brothers & Sisters, with seven of the eleven songs from the album making an appearance. Mason started the encore with two more Beta Band songs, “Inner Meet Me” and of course “Dry the Rain,” but noting that he didn’t want to end the night in the past, he closed the show with “The People Say,” a call to action in musical form that is one of the centerpieces of the new album.

DC locals Wandering Bird opened the show with an energetic set. Their self-titled debut EP was released last year, and the group is currently in the studio recording more music.

While Mason’s east coast run finished in Philadelphia this past weekend, he begins a series of west coast dates this week, starting in Los Angeles on April 30th, continuing to San Francisco on May 1st and Portland on May 3rd, and ending in Seattle on May 4th. Hopefully it won’t be another two decades until he comes back again, but just in case, don’t miss this rare opportunity to catch him.

PHOTOS © MATT CONDON

Steve Mason

Wandering Bird

Steve Mason setlist

No More
I’m On My Way
Planet Sizes
Dog’s Got a Bone
Let It Go
Fox on the Rooftop
Dr. Baker
Travelling Hard

Brothers & Sisters
Upon My Soul
I Walk the Earth
Squares

Inner Meet Me
Dry the Rain
The People Say

  1. Hi Matt, I’m Steve Mason’s mum. I’m so pleased you posted these super photos, many thanks. It’s wonderful to see him performing in America. Thank you again. X

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