Willy Mason @ King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow

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.

Willy Mason @ Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh

It was with some amount of trepidation that I ventured over to Edinburgh, as evidenced by the fact that I didn’t book travel and accommodation until Tuesday despite having planned to go for a few months.

I enjoyed some of the best times in my life in Edinburgh in a previous relationship, and seeing Willy Mason perform in Brighton last September was probably the pinnacle of that relationship.  So going back to Edinburgh alone to go to a Willy Mason gig triggered what can only be described as a circus of emotions inside my head.

The feelings of uncertainty subsided when I took a few steps outside Waverley Station to be greeted by the towering gothic structure that is the Scott Monument.  That was when I realised that you would have to be an utterly soulless creature to not be able to appreciate even a few hours in Edinburgh.  You walk out of Waverley Station and you have the Scott Monument looming over you; look up to your left and Edinburgh Castle sits looking over the city, and behind you lays Calton Hill.  Nowhere else in the world gives you that kind of welcome.

And those are only the immediate things that strike you.  There is so much more to Edinburgh:  the steep, sweeping pebbled streets, the hidden bars which lay down winding side-streets (the favourite one I found yesterday was located about halfway down the street in the picture above.  The Banshee Labyrinth claims to be Scotland’s most haunted pub, and half of the building is located in the old underground vaults) and the vast romantic potential for getting lost.  Edinburgh has everything that you’d want in a city – except for maybe a working tram system.  LOL.

So I found Cabaret Voltaire with minimum fuss.  It was about a five minute walk from Waverley Station, just off the Royal Mile, which was just a little disappointing as I have a real fondness of getting lost in Edinburgh.  I think maybe my sense of direction is improving with age.

The most striking thing about the gig venue is that it was underground – as much of Edinburgh’s best parts tend to be – and so was perhaps one of the hottest venues I have ever heard music played.  The intimacy of the setting only added to the intense warmth.

The gig itself was enjoyable, though perhaps not memorable.  I think that seeing Ryan Adams twice this year has probably spoiled any acoustic shows I might happen to see in the next twelve months.  Willy Mason is a sweet guy though (too mild-mannered to deal with the frustrating chattering at the back of the room – Ryan would have sorted those kids out) and his set was packed with uplifting folk numbers.

It was well worth being reminded of the sing-along quality of Willy’s material.  Songs like Oxygen, Where The Humans Eat, Gotta Keep Walking, So Long and Hard Hand To Hold sound like the kind of songs you could belt out over a campfire while passing a flask of whisky around.  There were notable appearances also of Sophie and Pickup Truck, while I Wish I Knew How To Say Goodbye was a charming highlight.

At £2 for a Jack Daniels and coke inside the venue the night was always on to a winner, the venue was stylish and the music was enjoyable.  I think I’m crushing on Edinburgh again.