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LIVE REPORT: Steve Mason
Andy Thomas , April 17th, 2013 11:13

The former Beta Band man makes a compelling showing of material from his new album Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time at London's Village Underground, writes Andy Thomas

"I just had this sudden feeling of responsibility: you've been given this gift as being born as a human being, and what are you gonna do with it? It's that kinda feeling that is then drummed out of you."

These words, which Steve Mason imparted to the Quietus on the release of his new album, stuck with me on the way to his sold out London show. His previous LP Boys Outside was as raw as it was tender, stripping the artist of his ego with a highly personal account of his inner struggles. It is therefore fitting that his follow up chooses a Buddhist saying as its title. Whereas Boys Outside saw Mason tackle the demons of his "monumental breakdown", on Monkey Minds In The Devil's Time the struggle is a social one, in what is one of the few outwardly political albums to emerge following the riots of 2011.

What lies at the heart of both LPs, though, is that sense of responsibility that Mason has felt since childhood. It makes him one of the most honest and direct performers we have. Here is a man who countered the darkest period of his life with the sensitive words "Where is my people, my beautiful people," in what sounded like a rallying call for a society broken apart by selfishness and greed. And it really does feel like a gathering of his people that have packed out the Village Underground venue tonight. As we weave our way to the front of the stage, DJ Andrew Weatherall is dropping a typically diverse but coherent set of obscure post punk and chuggy disco adding to the sense of anticipation.

"The wicked witch is dead," announces Mason in front of the Giotto di Bondone fresco that adorns the cover of his new LP. Dressed in battered jeans and a denim shirt, the singer cradles the microphone, as the first words of 'Lost & Found' ring through the warehouse-like venue. The sound that emerges from the band is cavernous with bass, guitar, drums and keyboards providing a solid backbone for the haunting voice. It's the way Mason rinses every last bit of emotion out of his words that makes him such an eloquent and genuine performer. As he intones this most poignant account of his brush with suicide, the crowd responds, and when Mason returns the applause at the end of the song it's a truly moving moment.

Both Mason's previous LPs have owed a lot to the production of Richard X and Dan Carey, but taken out of the studio the songs stand on their own, and in fact sound somehow fuller live. This has a lot to do with the band he has assembled, with the bass of Steve Duffield and drums of Greg Nielson creating a formidable rhythm section. Announcing "revolution is in the air", Mason is in his stride, and when he's not wielding his guitar like an urban folk hero he's bounding on the spot shaking his tambourine. "This song's about reaching a certain age and realising you're unlovable," he proclaims, in contradiction to the glimmers in eyes around the hall. Tracks from the new LP sound like classics already, with 'Seen It All Before' exhibiting all the spine tingling purity we have come to expect from Mason's voice. Stripped of the Richard X production, 'Boys Outside' sounds like the kind of anthem Noel Gallagher had once threatened to make, while 'Fire' and 'Fight Them Back' are delivered with even more vitriol than on record.