“At this point we’re just making shit up. I don’t even know what song we were playing there,” jokes Simon Allen from behind the drums as they wrap up an impromptu reggae detour lasting a couple minutes or so. Midway through Simon had broken into what I’d describe as a dancehall or Caribbean type beat which is something I’ve never heard them do. Having seen this band enough times to lose count, it was one of the more interesting moments in the show for me. Rushing out the door to get there, I had debated bringing along my Zoom H4 audio recorder to tape the show but decided not to at the last second since I was pressed for time and wasn’t sure where the windscreen was. Maybe about 3 tunes in I came to regret that decision; despite my familiarity with their catalog, the brits had again managed to step outside my expectations and bust out some new tricks.
International Fest in Houston was this weekend and as Eddie noted toward the end of their performance, the first time that The New Mastersounds had visited “H-Town” as an audience member instructed them to call it. They took a certain pleasure intoning this moniker in the most deliberately anglicized accent they could muster. Eddie was sporting an off-white suit and Pete (who was announced in a nasal-sounding voice as “Peter” at all times during the show) wore a Brooklyn Bowl shirt, which I thought was pretty cool. Weather was humid and what you’d call “pretty warm” here in Texas. Thrice the band saw fit to comment on how hot they thought it was even though as their introducing stage manger explained, “this isn’t even the real heat yet.”
It was a smooth Mastersounds. Very much a groovy, jazz-in-the-park style performance, which I enjoyed. There were two things of particular interest in the set: one, where a solo Eddie Roberts on guitar began their tune “Thermal Bad” stretching in a delicate, bare setting all the way until the B section arrived. Typically this is a super rocking number, so it was intriguing to hear them give a wholly different take on it. And sure, they took it there eventually. But this show wasn’t about the meltdown, it was far more focused on the slow builds and the clear, thoughtful solo, delivered to an audience who had recently finished up a casual afternoon brunch and drank that Saturday coffee as I had.
Joe Tatton on the keys took it into dreamy, full-on Mister-Rogers-Feeds-The-Fish Mode on the rhodes, drifting our minds off into the sky with those delays and open spaces in his phrasing. There were some bursts of that dexterity he likes to keep hidden in reserve, and some eyebrow-tilting jaunts into the ‘out’ keys, but for the most part, he kept the dial locked on Spacey. Which is perfectly fine by me since he doubtlessly excels in that realm. Similarly, Eddie Roberts showed us in a few brief flourishes that “yeah, I could burn it down if I really wanted to, but hey it’s just our first date here, Houston, and I wanna take it nice and easy you know? Make it special?”
The second point of interest was a very gentle and chilled version of “Summercamp.” The original tune is already laid back as-is, but this live version subtracted the driving percussion during the melody, instead seeing Simon mirroring its rhythm with light taps on the cymbals. For me this was the coolest part of the show since Summercamp is one of my favorite joints off their most recent two albums and two, it’s always neat to see musicians taking a familiar song and going new directions with it. Hopefully they return to Houston sooner than later…