Ed Lopez-Reyes for Brain Damage
As the Saucerful of Secrets approach the end of their North American tour, the band plays a more relaxed yet tighter sounding set… and host a special guest.
Saucerful of Secrets has finally arrived in New York City and, as guitarist Lee Harris reminds us, it has been 13 years since Nicholas Berkeley Mason has pounded the skins in Gotham. As far as when he played here with Pink Floyd the first time, even Harris and Mason debate this on stage.
All that matters to the crowd though, is that an actual member of Pink Floyd is here to play classic Pink Floyd, digging deep into the Syd Barrett era, and with a cast of musicians supporting Mason that even a former member of Pink Floyd swears sounds better than the original – but more on that later. As Mason says: this is not a tribute band but the real thing: Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets.
Although the set list for the Saucerful of Secrets shows hasn’t really changed much since the first handful of pub shows in London last May, each venue and each audience impart a unique vibe. The band feeds off of that.
This evening, the set kicks off as usual: with Interstellar Overdrive and Astronomy Domine. The two songs drench the audience in a sonic atmosphere The Beacon Theatre has served well over many years. The audience responds in kind: clapping, singing, and swaying to every note blissfully. But by the time the band starts playing Lucifer Sam, something takes over (considering the title, that might spook you out… but it’s a totally benign possession): they sound simultaneously relaxed and tight, their performance flowing through an undercurrent of muscle memory and collegial comfort while the smallest ad libs and accents on specific parts of the song begin to shape the performance into its uniqueness.
Venues serve as different vessels for sound in such diverse ways too… during Lucifer Sam it’s hard to ignore Dom Bekem’s keyboards: they really fill this theatre and weave the rest of the show together in a magical way that only the Beacon can afford to.
As they begin to play Fearless, the crowd is completely smitten, experiencing quite the zen moment when the song exclaims “hear the sound of the faces in the crowd.” With the audience under its spell, the band moves into Obscured by Clouds – the track that really illustrates Mason’s power and precision as a drummer. Hearing this song live will spoil you: only the historical charm of the recorded original will sustain a listen after you hear Mason playing it live; in fact, let’s hope that Saucerful of Secrets releases a live recording of this tour so the world can hear Mason’s powerful drumming in a more permanent way.
If anything, the one challenge Saucerful of Secrets faces is the length of the songs: Pink Floyd fans are used to epic songs – but many of the songs from the Barrett era are quite short. Tracks like Lucifer Sam and Obscured by Clouds deserve (in a future performance) a bit of an elongation … by way of jammin’ or otherwise.
But, no complaints: as an audience member says, who would have thought we’d hear a member of Pink Floyd performing Atom Heart Mother? Here we are though.
Of course, a New York City show is always meant to stand out. And tonight will cement in Nick Mason, Pink Floyd, and Saucerful of Secrets history as the night Roger Waters showed up to play the gong.
As Mason began to remind the audience of how little opportunity he had to play the gong in the Waters era of Pink Floyd, Waters made his way through the stage and toward the gong. The two embraced as the band delved into Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun. There is no need to describe audience response: Waters was gracious, sang a great tune, and was given a hero’s welcome.
Waters’ presence gave the performance a different hue. Special guests at these shows are a double-edged sword: they have to work hard to create a special moment while helping preserve the integrity, artistic vision, and expression of the hosting band; the guest’s history with any of those current band members is bound to trigger memories for audience members and to shape the way the gig cements in history. Given the time this band has been touring and the comfort level they’ve arrived at, this was a perfect night for a guest spot. Waters embraced it and the audience felt they were witnessing something special. The band carried the moment with remarkable artistic integrity and really created a moment of its own for the books.
As he egressed, Waters made the comment that this band sounded greater than the original – while half in jest, there is something about the song renditions Mason has constructed with Harris, Bekem, Gary Kemp, and Guy Pratt that has really given the Barrett era catalogue an entirely new shine.
This is only the second time Waters has shared the stage with Pratt. Inevitably, the audience focused a great deal of attention on their interaction. As Waters departed and embraced each band member there was a particular warmth (or at least it appeared that way) between Pratt and Waters and a certain peace that came with it.
The band delivered a solid set for what remained after Waters’ visit. One of These Days is always the set’s climax – and Lee Harris’ time to shine. Though he delivers from beginning to end, consistently, it is One of These Days that guitarists will always find most hypnotic.
Following the encore, A Saucerful of Secrets and Point Me at the Sky, the band embraced and began to wave goodbye. Mason spoke into the microphone and said he would try to get Waters back out for a final bow. As they all took their final bow with Waters, few probably recognized how neatly the moment fit as a bookend: for it was during a Roger Waters gig, 13 years ago, that Mason last drummed in New York City.
Saucerful of Secrets will perform for a second evening at The Beacon Theatre, in New York City, tonight.