Steve Mason shows how far he's moved on from The Beta Band - his Newcastle Riverside gig reviewed
For all that it was used to promote this show, it’s clear that “Beta Band frontman” is a tag Steve Mason is keen to move on from.
Certainly, anyone hoping for old favourites will have endured a particularly bitter Wednesday evening, as the Scot treated Riverside to solo delights at the expense of his former group’s work. Yes, even Dry the Rain…It was a bold move, yet with new album About The Light, the Edinburgh songwriter has now released more full-lengths (four) as a solo artist than with The Beta Band, and with nary a dud song between them sees little need to fall back on former glories.As if to prove as much, this was a set whose emphasis was placed firmly on recent material.There were established highlights – the rousing Hardly Go Through from his previous album, 2016’s Meet The Humans; A Lot of Love, from 2013’s sprawling political concept piece Monkey Minds In The Devil’s Time – though with all 10 of its songs aired, the night was predominantly a showcase of his latest LP.Donning a shining cape and golden headdress, Mason and his four-piece band introduced themselves with a stirring rendition of Stars Around My Heart, the record’s hook-laden lead single.The indulgent attire didn’t last long, but musically there was to be no let-up. About The Light hasn’t even been out for a fortnight, yet its title track is already a clear fan favourite, while No Clue, with its urgent tempo and jangling guitar, carries a distinct whiff of I.R.S.-era R.E.M. A gentler but equally satisfying gem came in the shape of Rocket, a gorgeous ballad whose low-key opening gradually subsumed into a dazzling, widescreen crescendo. It’s tender, cathartic, and for my money one of the finest songs he’s ever written.Many will doubtless have expected a far different setlist, but tellingly there wasn’t a single heckle or disgruntled murmur at the lack of Beta Band material.His solo works may not be as inventive or prove as influential, but in slimming his pallet and focusing on songcraft, the 44-year-old has cemented his standing among Britain’s most gifted melody makers.He’d probably be headlining larger rooms had he played his cards right in those early years, yet this terrific showing was further evidence that a mellowed, middle-aged Mason can do little wrong.