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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets at Chicago Theatre

| April 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets

Chicago Theatre, Chicago

April 4, 2019

Thursday’s concert by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets was a dream come true for fans of early Pink Floyd and psychedelic rock. Focused exclusively on material released prior to 1973’s epic Dark Side of the Moon, Mason and his cohort of four musicians delved deeper into Floyd’s formative years and first seven albums than David Gilmour or Roger Waters have dared to go on their own recent tours.

The show began with “Interstellar Overdrive,” bathed in red light with swirling oil lamp images splashed onto the backdrop behind the band. Otherworldly, space-age sounds offered a psychedelic trip without the need for chemical assistance.

Veteran Floyd and Gilmour bassist Guy Pratt joined Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp and guitarist Lee Harris in three-part harmony on “Astronomy Domine,” with high spirits that set the tone for the evening. Pratt wore a permanent grin throughout the evening while playing his well-worn Fender Precision and red Rickenbacker basses, and he sparked frequent laughter from Mason with short trips to confer mid-song at the drum riser.

Mason stood up from his drum set to address the crowd, joking about time spent at home waiting for a phone call from one of his former bandmates. “It clearly wasn’t going to happen,” he said, explaining why he decided to assemble a batch of talented friends with genuine affection for Pink Floyd’s early music. He also reminisced about performing Pink Floyd’s first headlining show in the US at Chicago’s Kinetic Playground in 1968.

The sinister strains of Syd Barrett’s “Lucifer Sam” described a troublesome cat. Mason and the band paid frequent tribute to Barrett, treating the material with respect. But they also took small liberties (like adding a bit of “The Siamese Cat Song” from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp) as a sign that the songs continue to live and breathe, and also to indicate that Saucerful of Secrets is its own entity with creative potential, rather than simply serving as a tribute band.

Before playing Pink Floyd’s debut single “Arnold Layne” (a song about a cross-dressing clothesline thief), Mason explained that the song had been banned from English radio “due to adult content.” “We figured you were old enough by now not to be damaged,” he said. During a hot instrumental streak, Pratt quoted from John Entwistle’s bass part from The Who’s “5:15.”

The group dug further for the whimsical “Vegetable Man,” a song that Barrett never quite finished. “We had run out of Syd, and Syd had run out of us,” said Mason of his old friend, whose mental illness put an early end to his participation in the band he’d helped to build.

Kemp ably covered Gilmour’s vocal part on “Fearless,” while a ghostly howl was piped into the room as a disquieting accompaniment to the amiable country rocker. Harris and Kemp deployed dueling slide guitars during the trippy instrumental “Obscured by Clouds.”

Pratt connected with the audience by telling personal stories about his connections to songs like “When You’re In.” The band performed the wistful and gentle “If” as a bookending piece to the title suite from Atom Heart Mother. Afterward, Pratt concluded, “After the ethereal beauty of something like that, the only way to follow it is with some dumbass rock and roll!” The band then lashed into the heavy grunge of howling rocker “The Nile Song.”

Pratt described talked about appreciating the Relics compilation album as a schoolboy because it cost less than the studio albums. He also recalled a discussion when preparing for a David Gilmour tour. “I suggested we could play that song,” said Pratt, referring to “The Nile Song.” “And he suggested I could play for another band.” After laughter subsided from the audience and stage alike, Pratt concluded. “And now I do. And what a great band they are!”

Kemp announced Obscured by Clouds track “Childhood’s End” as a special treat, learned especially for the North American tour. The song featured a chugging David Gilmour riff and Rick Wright’s fat Hammond organ riff played by Dom Beken. After an encore of “A Saucerful of Secrets,” Pratt tipped his hat to Wright, thanking the late keyboardist “for those majestic organ chords.”

In addition to providing the instantly recognizable “heartbeat of Pink Floyd,” Mason was a gracious host and generous bandleader with kind words for all of his current and former bandmates. He introduced present-day bassist Pratt as a friend and musical partner of more than 30 years. Mason praised his prior bassist and bandleader Roger Waters as a brilliant writer and musician, and a dear friend. “His only flaw was an inability to share the gong,” said Mason with a wink, standing from his kit with a mallet in hand before the enormous gong behind the drum throne. “So, this is my night!” Coaxing brash but regal thunder from the instrument, Mason began the grim and moody “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.”

Guitarists Harris and Kemp intertwined their instruments superbly throughout the show, with Kemp stealing a bit more attention while swapping lead vocals with Pratt. Harris, however, claimed the spotlight with his lap steel guitar for the furious roar of “One of These Days” that closed the main set. After a final encore of the suitably uplifting “Point Me at the Sky,” Mason gave a fond and heartfelt farewell. “Thank you again,” he said. “We’ve had a great evening, we really have.”

Clearly, the crowd had a great evening as well, with many hoping for more music from the group. With the different emphasis that Waters and Gilmour both bring to the Pink Floyd material featured at their shows, it seems that there is more than enough room for Mason to keep his corner of the pyramid.

-Review by Jeff Elbel; Photos by Philamonjaro

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