By Scott McLennan
Drummer Nick Mason and his four non-Floyd bandmates turned Boston’s Orpheum Theater into a psychedelic palace.
Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s engaging Saucerful of Secrets tour isn’t so much a nostalgia trip as it is an archeological dig for relics.
Mason and his four non-Floyd bandmates turned Boston’s Orpheum Theater into a psychedelic palace on April 13. The two-hour concert was made up of early Pink Floyd material, songs unfortunately eclipsed by 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon and that group’s subsequent string of conceptual albums.
Mason dove straight into the primordial stew of material associated with Pink Floyd’s original visionary Syd Barrett, who lasted with the group from its founding in 1965 until 1968, when his bandmates deemed him unstable and ousted him. The Saucerful of Secrets show, so named after the final album that includes Barrett and his work, also explores songs Pink Floyd crafted early on with Barrett’s successor, David Gilmour, tunes that led up to the massive commercial breakthrough of Dark Side of the Moon.
This portion of the Pink Floyd catalog had been pretty much shelved once the band went on its legendary run of albums leading up to 1979’s The Wall. Even after the band splintered in the mid-’80s (Gilmour, Mason, and keyboard player Richard Wright carried on as Pink Floyd while bassist Roger Waters led a solo band that featured Pink Floyd material in concert), nobody was getting into the likes of “Arnold Layne,” “Lucifer Sam” or “See Emily Play.”
Mason’s current road show reveals what a pity that decision was. Ironically, as Pink Floyd’s ambitions grew, its musical universe shrunk and become more codified.
It was a joy watching Mason and his touring band — guitarists Gary Kemp and Lee Harris, bassist Guy Pratt, and keyboard player Dom Beken — fly off untethered. The unassuming look of these five guys belied the fury and fierceness they brought to the music and their performances.
The show opened with the psychedelic sprawl of “Interstellar Overdrive” and “Astronomy Domine.” But, true to Pink Floyd’s origins as a band that bridged the candy-colored surreal pop of Sgt. Pepper’s with the acidic cloud of Live Dead, Mason’s band was just as apt coursing through the crystalline “Remember A Day” and lush “Fearless” as it was on the more purely mind-expanding numbers.
While the light show emulated a bygone era of rock concerts (back when, as it was pointed out, Pink Floyd played the Boston Tea Party in 1970), the rarely performed music came across as resoundingly vital and fresh, assisted by how the players found a satisfying balance between the original arrangements and extemporaneous zeal.
The show had many peaks, starting with a run through of songs — “Remember a Day,” “Arnold Layne” and “Vegetable Man” — that challenged the orthodoxies of mid-’60s pop (not to mention that “Vegetable Man” was never performed live by Pink Floyd).
The next highlight was a gorgeous version of the bruised ballad “If,” sung by Kemp, that segued into the deep space of “Atom Heart Mother” before returning to the gentle melody that initially generated the jam. Next, the band did a 180-degree turn into the bombast of “The Nile Song,” delivered by Pratt with devilish relish.
The long-forgotten “Green is the Colour” unfolded with a soothing cinematic sweep. It was the last peaceful moment before Mason and crew crafted a barrage of dynamic shifts and twists to close the show. The band’s final series of compositions — “Let There Be More Light,” “Childhood’s End” “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” “See Emily Play,” “Bike,” and “One of These Days” — furiously unleashed madness, whimsy, joy, and despair.
The Floyd Faithful were given a special treat during the encores, which featured a tear through the tour’s namesake song, plus the exotic gem “Point Me at the Sky,”’ a bit of late-’60s future shock that is frighteningly relevant today.
Over the course of the concert, one could hear musical elements that would resurface later, as Pink Floyd shaped the ambitious sound and grand artistic vision for which it would become best known. But Mason and company made the case that Pink Floyd’s early work is plenty brilliant in its own right.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to The Boston Globe, The Providence Journal, The Portland Press Herald and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.