When Willy Mason’s debut album Where The Humans Eat was released in 2004 with its critically acclaimed singles Oxygen and So Long he was instantly placed in the category of “new Bob Dylan” alongside the likes of Ryan Adams and Conor Oberst. While Adams and Oberst would go on to carve out successful careers in their own image, Willy Mason hasn’t released a follow-up to his 2007 recordIf The Ocean Gets Rough (although third album Carry On does hit shelves on Monday) and has spent his time writing songs back home in Martha’s Vineyard and occassionally touring small venues in the UK.
At a packed King Tuts last night Willy, now accompanied by a two-piece band, took another step into Dylan territory when he traded in his acoustic guitar for a set performed entirely electrically. It wasn’t exactly a ‘Judas’ moment, and the majority of the audience seemed unphased by the development, but this wasn’t the Willy Mason I remembered. I wrote here after seeing Willy last year that his songs “sound like the kind of songs you could belt out over a campfire while passing a flask of whisky around.” This wasn’t the case last night.
The songs still had their inherent singalong quality, with Save Myself, Hard Hand To Hold, Fear No Pain and particularly Oxygen proving to be uproarious favourites, but the very nature of those songs were altered by the switch to electric and I felt that the quality suffered as a result. The band added little, if anything, to the performance and if I was looking to be hyper critical it could be said that Willy himself seemed to lack passion and conviction in places.
I feel like I’m being too harsh on Willy Mason because this wasn’t a bad gig, and there were some enjoyable highlights such as the foot-stomping I Got Gold from the upcoming album, but the move to electric really doesn’t suit Willy’s act. Or at least not his live act; perhaps Carry On will prove me wrong, but I couldn’t help but leave King Tuts last night feeling that it could have been so much better.