Thursday, January 30, 2014

Dave Mason at the Uptown Theater in Napa

Dave Mason at the Uptown Theater in Napa. December 15, 2013. 
A friend from the old days on the PSE Options floor called. He had tickets to see Dave Mason at The Uptown Theater in Napa. Mason had canceled a show in November. He to get some “emergency oral surgery.” Someone couldn’t make the rescheduled show and gave him the tickets. I’d heard great things about the venue. I even recognize the names of future acts in The Uptown’s ads. We hesitated. It would be on a Sunday, a school night, but if we didn’t go now, when would we? 
It was a chance to see a musician who recorded with icons of the Sixties. Mason had been a member of Traffic. He played with Delaney and Bonnie, and he had hung out with Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones. 
Our sponsor tonight was Kevin Mergardt. He lives in Napa now, and gave us a short tour on our way to the Uptown Theater. He’s learned much of the history of Napa from another colleague of ours from the PSE Options floor, George Webber. George has reinvented himself and has been giving insightful and entertaining tours of Sonoma and Napa for years. I know he does a lot of historical research. He wears authentic period costumes. George has led tours as Mark Twain and General Mariano Vallejo among other characters. Lately, he’s been traveling the world, representing Buena Vista Winery as Count Agoston Haraszthy.  
We walked by the river on the way to the theater. When plans for the port were made, General Mariano Vallejo had preferred a better spot on the river, but it turned out one of the town fathers owned land around the site that would become Napa. Flooding was always a problem, but Napa became a thriving river port and connection to San Francisco. “Twenty percent of the wheat for the Union army came through Napa.” 
The locals working in the warehouses and docks of Napa mixed with servicemen from nearby Mare Island Naval Station who came to Napa for a weekend fling. Napa was a wild town. There was a silver rush that added to the boom times.  
We hadn’t been to Napa in a while. It was Sunday night, but the town’s boutiques, restaurants and wineries seem to be thriving. Kevin showed us the Indian grinding rock outside of the courthouse. Kathy took a picture of the First Presbyterian Church.     
We passed what had once been one of the local bars. It had a large vintage sign: Fagiani’s. In the early Seventies one of the sisters who owned Fagiani’s was murdered in the bar. It was suspected that the killer was an inmate at nearby Napa State Asylum for the Insane. Grief stricken, the family closed the bar. They left the interior untouched. For years there were glasses and ashtrays left on the bar. It was frozen in time. Now it’s a trendy looking restaurant. They did keep the sign.  
  We can see the marquee of The Uptown for several blocks before we arrive. Enthusiastic volunteers greet us. The Uptown is a classic American Indian Art Deco movie theater. It was recently renovated. It’s an old building, but it looks new. There’s no balcony, so the theater is one big room. The web site boasts of 860 “comfy seats.” We were about two-thirds of the way back. It’s almost perfect for live music. 
It’s getting near show time. Volunteers ask: “Anybody not know where they’re going?” They help people find their seats. It was hard to find anyone in the crowd who looked under fifty. Kathy commented: “If they’re under fifty, they don’t know who Dave Mason is.” 
There is hooting and hollering in the crowd as the MC announced, “A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Dave Mason!” It looked like three guys walked out of the audience and up onto the stage. The other members of the band looked younger than Mason. They were all dressed casual. They start rocking with one from Mason’s solo career: “World In Changes.”  
The rest of the band: Jonathan McEuen on guitar. His father was a member of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. Alvino Bennet on drums. Tony Patler played keyboards and sang. He’d have the Stevie Winwood parts. We’ve heard Winwood sing these songs so many times that it’s a bit jarring to hear someone else singing the Traffic classics.  
The second song sounds more familiar: “40,000 Headmen.” It’s the first Traffic song of the night. They follow with “Medicated Goo.” This was great. I had wondered if Mason would play more obscure songs from his solo catalog.   
Mason tells us there will be a tour next year, “Traffic Jam.” It won’t be a Traffic reunion, but Mason will get the old songs out there again. The audience tonight will be “guinea pigs.” “I have to see if I still know the songs,” he tells us. The crowd laughs. They don’t seem to mind being part of a test run. Mason can do no wrong here in Napa tonight. “I hope this is recognizable,” he says before “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”  
It is recognizable, but it’s a more hard rocking sound than the version we know so well. It is strange to hear someone besides Stevie Winwood sing this one, but the singer does manage to make the song his own. 
We’ll get a special treat with the next song. “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys.”  “Fred is a very important part of this organization.” Fred is the bus driver. He joins them onstage and plays guitar. It’s another great song for the Traffic fans here tonight.  
“Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave.” 
I wasn’t a huge Traffic fan, but I did have a copy of the album “John Barleycorn.” It seemed like everyone had that record. I did get to see Traffic in the early Seventies. It was one of the wildest shows I ever went to. We thought it would be a break from the usual Heavy Metal hijinks that happened at most “big shows” back then. It would be a nice, mellow evening with Traffic. 
Traffic was red hot right then. Stevie Winwood had real star power and sex appeal. “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” had just come out. The show was at The Kinetic Playground, a smaller venue than expected for a group this popular. The promoter made up for it by overselling the show. He just kept selling tickets. People kept jamming into the theater. It was a “festival seating” nightmare. We found a relatively safe spot in the back. Many young ladies were disappointed they couldn’t see Stevie Winwood. 
Mason tells us a bit about himself and the history of Traffic. He comes from Worcestshire, pronounced “Wooster.” It’s near Wales and Stratford on the Avon. We might have heard of some neighbors of his: John Bonham and Robert Plant. The funny thing is, Mason has no trace of an English accent. I thought he was American! 
He apologizes again for having to cancel in November. “Believe me, I wish I had been here.” The theater is small enough that Mason answers shout outs from near the back of the audience. Mason seems to be having a dialogue with someone in the first row. We can’t hear what he’s saying, but Mason says, “Here’s a song no one knows ... except this guy.” The crowd yells encouragement after songs. “That was great!” 
“There are no old songs or new songs,” he tells us, “There are only good songs. In fact, we’re going to put them out again. No, really.” Mason will be making some of his older material available on his web site. “That’s right, you can find it at” The band repeats the web address, like on a commercial, “” 
“We Just Disagree” and “I’ll Be Good To You. 
Before one song Mason tells the crowd that, “You can get up and dance if you want. There’s a good chance you won’t see these people again.” Many in the crowd are neighbors in Napa. They’re pretty sure they’ll see each other again. This crowd was content to sit, although a few people did stand in the side aisles. 
“It was fifty years ago we started Traffic. I was eighteen.” Mason told us about working with Jim Capaldi. “He wrote the lyrics. I didn’t understand them. Maybe if you smoked enough pot you could understand them.” This gets a laugh from the crowd. Mason says, “The hair is gone. The waistline might be gone, but the voice and these (He wiggles his fingers.) are still doing good.” 
“Look At You, Look At Me.” 
Mason and Capaldi later reunited in Los Angeles. They were having a great time, but Capaldi complained of stomach pains. He went back to England and learned he had cancer. The end came quickly. Capaldi had started writing a song, “How Do I Get To Heaven.” Mason thought it sounded too much like Leonard Cohen. He finished the song, but he says he lightened it up a bit. 
The first encore is “All Along the Watchtower.” Mason was a friend of Jimi Hendrix and played acoustic guitar on the recording of the Dylan song. I wondered what other Hendrix stories he could tell. 
Mason says he was living on a Greek island surviving on anise bread, feta cheese and retsina. He wanted to write a simple song. Could it just have one chord? No, that was James Brown. The band blasts a James Brown R&B riff. But two chords made “Feeling All Right.” “It’s been covered by every guitar band in the world.” 
“Joe Cocker made the song famous, but I wrote it.” Mason was glad to get the royalties. Bank of America used “Feeling All Right” for a commercial. “That’s good. That means they have to pay me money.” The show ends with Mason’s biggest hit.  
On the way back to the car we passed a large billiard hall. Through the big windows we could see and hear a band playing “Feeling All Right.”

Thanks to Kevin Mergardt who made it happen.
You can contact George for a tour of Sonoma or Napa at  


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Marshall's Last Load Out

Marshall’s Last Load Out. October 23, 2013. 
The Tubes have been playing gigs across the country this year. I checked their web site to see where their latest adventures have been. There was an invitation to “Marshall’s Last Load Out” at The Fillmore. It would be a memorial tribute to Marshall Holmes, a long time roadie and producer for The Tubes and other bands.   
There was a link to get a free ticket, but there was a subtle hint: “This is a guest list event.” They sent me an order confirmation, but I still had my doubts until I walked in. Maybe it would be a wake just for family and friends.  
It was great to get into The Fillmore under any circumstances. There is so much history in this room. It looks small when it’s not full of people. The history and the imported chandeliers make this more than a rock club. 
There was already a band onstage blasting a version of The Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.” They gave it a rocking edge. It was still early. People were drifting in. A light show was projected behind the stage. Just like the old days.  
You could easily walk up to the stage. Four bands would play tonight. The band onstage was Pollo Enfermo. It was surprising to see Praire Prince on drums. He’d be back later with The Tubes. He’d be doing double duty behind the drums tonight.       
There was a table set up stage left. It had some pictures and flowers. Although there weren’t that many people around I almost bumped into a short, heavy set guy with a Navaho style hat. He was searching for someone. Minutes later he was onstage singing “Talk Talk.” They did a great version of the garage band classic!  
“We’re going way back to the Sixties!” He told us before the next song. “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone.” These guys had great taste. The songs seemed to have new life in the hallowed room. The singer was growling. He did have soul, like we used to say. 
“Should we slow down or speed up?” They slow down with “Slow Down” an old rocker covered by The Beatles. The guitar player said the band “was going to morph before your very eyes.” Another guitar player and a keyboard player joined. The keyboard player wore a blue military style jacket with epaulets. The organ intro to “Break on Through” started. They did sound great. The singer wasn’t Morrison, but it was eerie to hear this song in The Fillmore. Then they played “I Can’t Wait Forever.” It was great to hear these Sixties sounds in the venue that had seen the originals play them.  
I’m sure most of this crowd had memories of previous Fillmore visits. There were a surprising number of younger people. People did seem determined to have a good time. I didn’t know Marshall, but it’s not a stretch to know he’d be loving this. It was an upbeat memorial.    
The second band, Ray & The Forget Me Nots did a passionate song dedicated to Marshall. They had an interesting sound, but I wandered upstairs to the poster room. It’s all about saving energy these days. The Tubes would probably play late. Probably last. TVs ran a running photo tribute to Marshall. He looked like a fun loving guy. I wondered if I’d ever seen him at shows.  
There are great pictures hanging in The Fillmore. It looks like many of the photos have been changed to acts that have played here in this century. Weezer. Train. Elvis Costello. Blondie. Trombone Shorty. Journey. Metallica. Each photo had a little plaque with the act’s name on it. Near the bar there are large photo portraits of the Sixties legends. Janis Joplin. Jim Morrison. Jimi Hendrix. These portraits also had the little plaques with their names on them too. In case we forget who they are.
One of the MCs had encouraged us to sign the guest book, which was on a table in the lobby “where the apples usually are.” (It’s a Fillmore tradition to give away apples from a barrel.) I signed in: “Thanks! World Commander.” I’ll bet it’s not the weirdest inscription in the book tonight.  
There is a room upstairs that runs parallel to the ballroom floor. It was crowded and it was obvious that this is where friends and family mingled. In the far corner there was an area with temporary curtains around it. This was “Marshall’s Living Room.” The furniture and layout looked like they were probably an accurate reproduction of his comfortable late night haven. I didn’t know Marshall, but we were assured from onstage that he was, “The greatest guy who ever lived.”  
Downstairs the next band was starting. Cannon and Clouds. They have a heavy Rock sound. It’s not Heavy Metal, but it’s loud. Surfer Grunge. They’re part of the beach community that is mentioned several times tonight. Surfers and musicians are drawn to the Ocean Beach area. Maybe because it’s at the end of the world. 
The singer talked about Marshall. He made the younger members of “the beach community” feel welcome at the local barbecues. Before another song the singer quipped, “He gave us the LSD that inspired these songs.” 
It was so laid back that they had comfortable living room lounge chairs set up on one side of the floor. Never saw that at The Fillmore before. Along one wall there are church pews. Usually you can’t even see them. I grabbed a seat and could see most of the stage.  
There were more people here than at the beginning of the night and more were coming in. It took about a half hour between acts to set up for the next band, so I went back up to the poster room. Most of the history of Rock and Roll are somewhere on these walls. There was a poster from the pre-Bill Graham days when it was a dance hall for Rhythm and Blues groups.   
  It was surprising, but The Tubes played next. It was 10:00. I expected The Mermen to come onstage, but this worked for me. I went downstairs and it was still civilized, even near the stage. It was still easy to walk up to the front. I was about fifteen feet from the stage.   
Fee and the band look loose tonight. They do the James Brown song “It’s a Man’s World.” Fee does some great Rhythm and Blues crooning. He does look a bit older, but he’s in great physical shape. 
The next song is an old Tubes’ song about San Francisco, “This Town.” Great vintag shots of San Francisco were projected on the screen behind the band. The song reminded me of the crazy background set they used onstage for some of their big shows of the Seventies. It featured a looming TransAmerica pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge. San Francisco is a great place, but the song is a bit ominous. This town can be bad for you too. San Francisco is a boom and bust City. “This town is a make you town. Or a break you town.” There can be quite a gulf between the haves and have-nots. You can see it on the street everyday. 
Fee is really enjoying himself. He was wearing a long sleeve tee shirt. It had a skull and cross bones with the word “Altamont” on it. He did have light stage makeup on. I had a hunch we wouldn’t be seeing the full blown Quay Lude tonight. Maybe that’s why Fee was so relaxed. It must have been a great gig for The Tubes. The Fillmore has to be one of their favorite playgrounds. 
While they played “Town Without Pity” scenes from Film Noir movies were projected behind the band. It was a perfect match. Groups of women converged on the dance floor. They sure seemed to be enjoying this number.   
Fee is very engaging tonight. Between songs he waves at a couple standing in front of me. He yells to them: “Hi Anne!” The couple went up to the stage and talk to him for a couple of minutes. Guitar player Roger Steen has to remind him that, “They should move on.” Fee made it all seem like an intimate party. 
They sounded great. Maybe it was because I was so close. The last time I saw them was at the Haight Street Fair. The Tubes were their entertaining selves, but playing live outdoors in the wind and fog of San Francisco can be tricky. Next are two great rockers. “No Way Out” and a crashing version of “Mondo Bondage.” Then they play a song from the first album, “Malaguena.” Fee looked like he really having a good time singing this one. 
Fee tells us they’re going to play nearby Yoshi’s on December 6. Yoshi’s complained about The Tubes playing this gig so near their date. (Most contracts restrict appearances in the area close to a scheduled performance.) “I told them to fuck off.” It was a bit of bravado. Hope it doesn’t cause them legal problems later.  
Next is a seldom heard ode to oral sex, “Tip Of My Tongue.” Fee tongues the mike. Then they play the big hit, or the song that probably sold the most records: “One In A Million.”     
Fee announces a special guest. “An original member of The Tubes, Bill Spooner. Spooner’s wearing a black suit jacket and dress shirt. I’d walk right by him on the street. He carries an electronic device he wants plugged in. It looks like an antique wah-wah pedal with large plastic wires sticking out. Is he just playing the mad scientist? Fee looks a bit irritated. “We’ll plug it in that ... thing ... over there!” There’s a slight delay. Is Spooner just being a pain?
When big success proved hard to get, The Tubes did disintegrate for a while. Spooner left to try a solo career and even Fee left for a while. There seemed to be a bit of the old tension while we waited. 
The wait was well worth it. They ripped a great version of “Boy Crazy.” Spooner and Roger Steen engaged in what looked like a friendly guitar duel.  
Next, the song many are waiting for. Fee yells at the crowd, “I know you’re out there!” The first chords come crashing, “White Punks On Dope.” Most of the crowd are pumping fists in the air, singing the anthem. “Yeah, you really know that one,” Fee says. They quickly follow with, “Talk To You Later.” 
They really have sounded great tonight. Spooner and the band seem to be enjoying another reunion. Fee stands aside while the band jams Sixties style. It revolved around the riff from the Jeff Beck version of “Bolero.”  
It wasn’t as crazy as the old days, but it was a great night at The Fillmore.