Nick Mason unleashed a saucerful of Pink Floyd oldies at the Beacon (pics, review)
When Nick Mason, Pink Floyd's drummer and only member to survive all iterations of the legendary band, announced a little over a year ago that he was forming a supergroup called "Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets" and that they would play a handful of UK shows focusing on Pink Foyd's largely neglected pre-Dark Side of the Moon catalogue, my brain splintered into a few shards of thought. The first thought was abject disappointment as the announcement was for four shows at two tiny venues in London and there'd be no way in hell I'd be able to see any of them. My second thought was a way of trying to console myself by pondering whether or not this project would be any good in the first place. Sure he had a killer band consisting of Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp; Lee Harris of Ian Dury & the Blockheads, composer Dom Beken, who frequently collaborated with Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright; and bassist Guy Pratt, who became Floyd’s bass player in the post-Waters era and who also happens to be son-in-law to the aforementioned late, great, Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright. But Nick himself hadn't toured extensively since 1994 when Pink Floyd was touring in support of their second post-Waters studio album release The Division Bell. And those late-era Floyd tunes were quite a departure from the often frenetic, free-wheeling tempos of the pre-Dark Side era. AND they had a percussionist on that tour who, drum-wise, did a lot of the heavy lifting. Ultimately I resigned myself to the reality that they'd do their four shows and that'd be it and it wasn't worth the energy getting bent out of shape that I'd never see it.
But then, lo and behold, it was announced that Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets would embark on a 21-date European tour during the month of September 2018. "Holy shit," thought I, "this group suddenly has legs." That tour was sold out show after sold out show and my Pink Floyd super-fan pea brain started to flicker with the thought that there was no way this momentum wouldn't fling the band over to the US of A for a series of shows. And then, lo and behold, it was announced last October that they'd embark on a March/April 25-date US tour (which would balloon to a 28-date tour), including two shows at NYC's Beacon Theatre. And so it was that I was able to catch Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets in the flesh on Friday (4/19), and, my Cod, it was glorious.
First off, I loved these musicians so damned much. Individually they brought so much to the table, and as a group they were unstoppable. Guy Pratt, who is one of my personal heroes, almost felt like the bandleader to me. In addition to providing a pitch-perfect bass performance to the proceedings, I loved his vocals and his bits of stage banter. Having worked with Nick Mason for 25-plus years I also got the impression that he was giving Mr. Mason non-verbal cues as to when he should start or stop or be ready for a transition. He was a relentless ball of positive energy and it was contagious. Gary Kemp, who most people know from Spandau Ballet (but who I know from various British panel shows), was an unbelievable guitarist and vocalist and one of the biggest thrills to see and hear. From playing Gilmour's leads in songs like "Childhood's End" and "The Nile Song" to crushing away with distorted rhythms to deftly plucking away at an acoustic as he did on "If," Mr. Kemp was a tour de force and a true showman. Lee Harris was also force of nature. His ability to emulate Syd Barrett's playing sound and style served as such a solid backbone for the collective sonic experience of the night. Hidden away behind a cubicle of keys, synths, and other electronics just beyond Gary Kemp was the unsung hero of the night, Dom Bekken. Not only did he provide a prodigal execution of Rick Wright's hyper-important keyboard sound, but he was also responsible for all the other aural triggers throughout the evening that are so utterly crucial to the vintage Pink Floyd sound. And of course, there was Nick Mason. Nick is not the most prolific drummer in the annals of classic rock. Nor is he the most technically proficient. But his sound and style is unmistakable and I and legions of other fans can pick his sound out of a line-up. It was so oddly thrilling to see him pounding his way around the drum kit on songs like "Set The Controls for the Heart of the Sun." It had the sonic weight of hearing David Gilmour rip the solos from "Comfortably Numb." Ok, that's a bit of poetic license, but you get the gist.
Although the setlist covered only a brief snapshot of the career of Pink Floyd, it did end up covering a lot of territory. Represented were the frenetic psychedelic jams "Interstellar Overdrive," "Astronomy Domine," "Lucifer Sam," "See Emily Play," and "Bike" nestled against the more slower jams like "Fearless," "If," and the supremely gorgeous "Green is the Colour." Of particular note to me personally was the inclusion of songs from one of my absolute favorite Floyd albums, Obscured By Clouds. In the grand scheme of their catalog and Pink Floyd fandom in general, it is not one of their most memorable or fan-sacred albums, but Jesus I love it to death. To hear songs like "When You're In" and "Childhood's End" live was a thrill. Hell, hearing "The Nile Song" from Music from the Film "More" and the obscure "Vegetable Man" (which was recorded in 1967 but never made the cut for 1968's Saucerful of Secrets and languished on bootlegs and ROIOs for decades before having a formal release in 2016) completely flipped my wig. Again, not songs I thought I'd ever hear live. I loved the setlist so much.
At the end of the day, what set this show apart from any of the Pink Floyd, David Gilmour, or Roger Waters gigs I've seen in my lifetime is that Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets ARE FUN. Pink Floyd, David Gilmour and Roger Waters shows are incredible. They are affecting and often technological tours de force. But they're also dour and pointed and political and gloomy and autobiographical and critical and sociological and psychological and heavy, man. And this is why I think Nick Mason has a tendency to revisit the pre-Dark Side period of Pink Floyd, first with the hulking and extensive Pink Floyd : The Early Years box set, and now this tour. It is a survey of what is truly Pink Floyd's most fun, most experimental, and most convention-shattering era. It represents a time before Pink Floyd's volatile infighting became the stuff of legend and of decades long grudges. This tour is Nick Mason's love letter to his favorite era of the band and I get the impression that it's one last hurrah, for him and for us, before old age takes over.
At the Thursday (4/18) show at the Beacon, Roger Waters made a surprise appearance and you can read more about that and watch video HERE.
Pictures are in the gallery above. More videos and the Friday setlist below...
NICK MASON'S SAUCERFUL OF SECRETS : BEACON THEATRE : April 19,2019
When You're In
Remember a Day
Atom Heart Mother (Followed by 'If' reprise)
The Nile Song
Green Is the Colour
Let There Be More Light
Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun
See Emily Play
One of These Days
A Saucerful of Secrets
Point Me at the Sky
photos by Greg Cristman