Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam
Variety Playhouse Atlanta, GA • Feb 19, 2016
by Roi Tamkin
Doing something for fifty years is pretty awesome. Doing something you love with people you admire for fifty years is monumental. Dave Mason, co-founder of the British band Traffic, is celebrating his fifty years as a musician with a tour of the U.S. At the Variety Playhouse, he played with a stripped-down band of guitars, keyboards and drums. He is also touring with the Doobie Brothers playing larger venues.
Fifty years ago, two teenagers, Dave Mason and Steve Winwood, set out to create a new sound in British pop music. Traffic infused folk, jazz and rock at a time when psychedelic music was hitting the airwaves. Dave quit then re-joined almost as many times as Steve Winwood broke up and reformed the band. Between 1967 and 1994, there have been many iterations. But after the 60’s, Dave was never asked back. I don’t know if there is any animosity between Mason and Winwood, but Dave did refer to Traffic’s bigger songs as A.D. – After Dave.
Backed up by stellar guitarist Johnne Sambataro, drummer Alvino Bennett and keyboardist Tony Patler, Dave split the concert into two hour-long sets. The popular Traffic songs first, then after a break Dave’s solo work. Although only in the band for a short period, he penned a couple of their hits: “Hole in My Shoe” and “Feelin’ Alright” which he wrote when he was actually feeling lousy. That one song has been re-interpreted by over fifty different artists, and it’s still popular today. In fact, if you’ve been singing “Feelin’ Alright” on karaoke nights, you owe Dave some royalties. In addition to the songs taking us back to the Seventies, there was a multi-media show. Slides of Dave playing guitar as a fifteen year old, his performances with Clapton and Hendrix, and clips of Dave in concert.
The Traffic set had new arrangements to accommodate the twin lead guitars of Sambataro and Mason. Despite having a keyboard player, Tony’s role was relegated to singing lead on two songs, carrying the bass lines and otherwise staying put in the corner. His large floppy hat and sunglasses didn’t help to bring him out into the spotlight. “Dear Mr. Fantasy” retained its psychedelic sounds, but “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” was unrecognizable as we know it. The new guitar-centric version really blew the house away. Switching off leads with long solos played to Mason’s strengths, and it paid off. He played crowd favorites “Medicated Goo” and “Rock and Roll Stew” with little change. He moved through other tunes quickly. With no horn section, those instrumental breaks were just removed allowing him time to talk in between songs about Traffic history and his own life.
For the second set, Dave talked about the incredible people he had the privilege to perform with. In addition to his own solo hits “Only You Know and I Know” and “We just Disagree”, he also played a funked-up version of “Feelin’ Alright” and the instrumental “Apache” by the Shadows. His encore was “All Along the Watchtower” giving his regards to both Hendrix and Bob Dylan.
Dave Mason will return to Atlanta with the Doobie Brothers. It would be nice to see him with an expanded backup band with a horn section. However he wants to celebrate his fifty years he’ll be Feelin’ Alright.