16th December | Exchange
Photos: Lee Ramsey
Tonight, Exchange is decked out like a Christmas tree, with tinsel, fairy lights and decorations strewn across the stage. After Steve Mason arrives, he assesses it all slowly, smiles and says, “If you’ve ever wondered what you can get in B&Q for £24, it’s this.”
The set-up gives the night a warm, intimate atmosphere; it’s almost as if we’re crowded in someone’s living room. The homely feel continues as Mason begins to strum ‘About the Light’, the title track from his latest album. His performance tonight is stripped back, with the only accompaniment to his guitar playing and singing being the occasional drum machine or keyboard. Due to the more personal nature of the songs on About The Light, they feel ready-made for this setting. Stripped down to their cores, these songs still sound great.
Between songs, Mason asks the crowd, “Any questions?” and just about every time, one or two emerge. One man asks where his copy of Meet The Humans is – apparently he lost it at home somewhere – while another asks why he bothered to stop by Hebden Bridge on his tour. It helps set the tone for the gig early on, with Mason taking the time to answer just about every question and random outburst throughout the night.
The set mainly leans on highlights from About The Light, and thankfully there are plenty. ‘Rocket’ is huge and dramatic without feeling overbearing, while ‘Fox on the Rooftop’ is airy and moody. The songs have an old-school Britpop-inspired sheen to them. They’re a lot less experimental than Mason’s early material, but they feel all the more timeless because of it. They also manage to sit well alongside older cuts, such as the punchy, feel-good anthem ‘Alive’ and the bright and twinkling ‘Planet Sizes’. During the tight one-hour set, he doesn’t misspend a single minute.
Much to the audience’s delight, Mason also throws in a handful of Beta Band classics. “Because it’s that time of year,” he says with a smile. Despite their age, songs like ‘Dog’s Got a Bone’ and ‘Dr. Baker’ still don’t sound like anything else. ‘Dry The Rain’ – the closest thing his former band ever had to a hit – delivers the night’s big singalong moment. From its subdued opening to its soaring finish, the song is a true 90s classic.
For an encore, Mason picks up the pair of handheld sleigh bells that have been hanging ominously from either side of his music reader all night. “Now I’m going to prove that you can make any song Christmasy,” he says. And he does, delivering a warped Christmas-tinged rendition of The Sex Pistols’ ‘Anarchy In The UK’. It’s probably the last thing anyone expected to hear tonight, but it’s glorious.
Finally, the show is closed out with the stunning ‘Walking Away From Love’, a strong contender for being his best song. With its snappy drumbeat, catchy guitar line and irresistible hook, it shows that Steve Mason not only still has it, but that he’s moving in exciting new directions. Where to next?
See Steve Mason perform ‘Walking Away From Love’ live at the BBC6 Music Live Room here: