The prospect of seeing two Woodstock-era rock legends like Dave Mason and Joe Cocker performing under one roof can be as enticing as it is cautionary. Sure, the fact that you’re sharing the room with a living artifact of rock n’ roll’s past is, in itself, pretty great, but the reality of aging for artists in this camp is a just bitch sometimes. Maybe it was too many swills from the bottle, blotters on the tongue, or the boring reality that they’re just withered shells of their former selves, but a performance from a vinyl-era rock figure all too often falls to a cheap, sloppy, bizarre, and/or bitter wayside in this day and age.
I avoid Youtube videos of any recent performances by Bob Dylan just to shield myself from this unappetizing reality. I’ve watched Robert Plant mumble-sing and saunter to country-fied versions of once eardrum-shredding masterpieces. I saw the Beach Boys hoisted up like old, whipped show ponies and perform with so little enthusiasm that it actually chipped away at my own well-being song after song.
So, it's good to know, reassuring even, that Dave Mason and Joe Cocker can both hold their own when they play a place like Ruth Eckerd Hall more than four decades after their respective heydays.
Mason took the opening spot at this double-billed show on Thursday night. His lucidly tame set of acoustic numbers worked like a time machine as Mason and an accompanying guitarist played through a handful of songs culled from both Traffic's and Mason's own solo discography. Songs like “World in Changes” and “Only You Know and I Know” off his 1970 debut sounded worn and distant in the best way possible as they projected from Mason and his six-string into the sold-out hall. Capped off by a hauntingly simple cover of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower," Mason proved he has no problem carrying his own, or replicating past gusto 40 years down the line.
Twenty minutes later with full band in tow, Joe Cocker hit the stage and immediately took the enduring strength Mason so gracefully emanated for a wildly soulful and frenetic, but startlingly concise ride.
Cocker's greatest strength is his uncanny ability to take sunny pop songs and transform them into ugly, yet even more loveable animals by way of his feverish, tobacco-smoked delivery. This show was no exception as Cocker rifled through a handful of his own tracks and an assortment of signature covers including three Beatles songs ("With a Little Help From My Friends," "Come Together" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window"), Traffic's "Feelin' Alright" (complete with a Dave Mason appearance), Billy Preston's "You Are So Beautiful," and Ray Charles' "Unchain My Heart." Each was put through the figurative meat grinder of Cocker's imagination and belted out with such gruffness, they sounded even better, even weirder, even — dare I say — stronger now emanating from his throat than they did in his heyday.
His energy never quite flourished, but never really let up throughout the hour and change set as his tight band complete with sax (and plenty o' sax solos), backup singers, and Hammond organ worked as the perfect, lively context for Cocker's wild howls and frenetic presence.
I left Ruth Eckerd content with the fact that guys like these are still around. Through sheer and utter randomness, being born in 1988 didn't do me a lot of favors in terms of witnessing the weirdly amazing and formative era of late '60s to early '70s rock n' roll, so a performance like this ultimately yields a different, but deeper sense of gratification for the artform.
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.