[This review is brought to you by Dave, one of my friends from college who manages to get out a lot more than I do, because he is a richer man than I. Enjoy! You can find him here.]
Recording his debut album, Where The Humans Eat, Willy Mason followed one rule. Intent on replicating the raw and spontaneous feel of live performance, each song was recorded in less than three takes. The music lives and breathes, the imperfections arguably the highlights of the record. As Mason’s weary vocals and slightly de-tuned guitar crackle through the speakers, we cannot question his authenticity.
Eight years since that album’s release, Willy Mason’s ethos has not changed. Taking to the stage at the Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, the set up is refreshingly straightforward. Performing with his Gretsch semi-acoustic guitar throughout, he retunes halfway through songs and stops frequently to share jokes with the audience.
Supported by his backing band of ‘old friends,’ Mason also offers indications of where his sound might be heading next. Although his solo performances are undeniably the highlights of the evening, his band make interesting contributions to newer material. Most notably, Restless Fugitive has been completely transformed from the song that appeared during the last UK tour. Younger brother, Sam Mason, now provides a hypnotic beat, while layers of feedback and broken guitar carry the melody. These brief flashes of experimentation recur throughout the show, teasing the forthcoming new album.
While heavily relying on unfamiliar material, Mason avoids accusations of self indulgence. Few other performers could engage their audience with such humility; although performing to a sizable crowd, he could easily be addressing a room of close friends. Humbly introducing each song, he appears genuinely touched by the overwhelmingly positive response. Most performers strive for such intimacy, but for Willy Mason it seems effortless.