SAN FRANCISCO — Drummer Nick Mason is the only member of Pink Floyd to be featured on every one of the band’s albums, which have gone on to sell over a quarter billion copies. While Mason’s bandmates, Roger Waters and David Gilmour, have put on massive tours playing Pink Floyd material, Mason has largely sequestered himself in the British countryside, indulging in a serious hobby: racing cars. But his performance Friday at The Masonic with his new band, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets, was evidence that Mason is still firing on all cylinders.
Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets is composed of Spandau Ballet guitarist Gary Kemp, guitarist Lee Harris, long-time Pink Floyd collaborator Guy Pratt on bass, and Dom Beken playing keyboard. The quintet proved to be musical chameleons, morphing between experimental drone, riff-based blues rock, acoustic ballads and good old-fashioned psychedelic jams as it played selections from Pink Floyd’s early experimental albums.
After taking the stage to recorded sound effects, the band launched into “Interstellar Overdrive,” a 1967 psychedelic classic that weaves surf rock, garage rock and several hits of LSD into a raucous lo-fi tapestry that’s been covered by everyone from The Mars Volta to The Melvins and Oh Sees. An amorphous fuzz freakout replaced the pounding riffage with a melting throb. Mason sat that part out. It was strange to see old guys twisting effects knobs while waves of sound crashed over the audience. Part of the disjunction came from the fact that this music from more than 50 years ago still sounds really far out.
Mason sat at a large drum set and exuded confidence and an air of professionalism borne of a half century of playing huge stadiums and arenas. On “Astronomy Domine,” also from 1967’s Pipers at the Gates of Dawn, Harris, Beken and Kemp provided a convincing facsimile of Syd Barrett’s vocals. The song’s driving rhythms gave Mason a chance to show off his chops.
After the first couple of songs, Mason stood behind his drum kit with a microphone and introduced the band, saying, “This is not David Gilmour; this is not Roger Waters; this is not The Antiques Road Show.” He explained he’s been playing concerts in San Francisco for 52 years, first coming to the city in 1967 when Pink Floyd played The Winterland Ballroom—opening for Richie Valens, Janis Joplin and Big Brother & the Holding Company. Before returning to his throne behind the drums, Mason told the audience, “Let’s crank up the old time machine and carry on.”
On “Lucifer Sam,” Kemp’s surf-guitar-playing and Beken’s vocals added to a convincing rendition of the original, while at the same time updating the sound with modern instrumentation and better a sound system. Even though the songs were more than half a century old, the music sounded fresh.
When the band struck up the opening chords of acoustic classic “Fearless,” off 1971 album Meddle, the crowd erupted in applause, singing along with the song’s sampled soccer anthem. On “Obscured by Clouds,” the title track from Pink Floyd’s 1972 album, Harris and Kemp’s slide guitars locked up in sinewy synchronization as the band delivered an extended jam. It attested to Pink Floyd’s influence in the worlds of both prog rock and grunge.
“It’s nice to be playing here at the birthplace of psychedelia. Good job, you lot,” Beken said afterward.
As the band played “Arnold Layne,” old footage of Mason in his more hirsute days was projected on the giant backdrop behind the stage. In addition to the classics, Mason and company also trotted out an early Pink Floyd song called “Vegetable Man,” which was recorded in 1967 but didn’t see release until 2016 with its inclusion on The Early Years 1965-1972 boxset. The song’s complex arrangement and sudden changes, along with the whimsical lyrics, evoked comparisons to Frank Zappa.
About halfway through the set, Mason paid tribute to his bandmate Syd Barrett, who left the band due to mental illness in 1972. Barrett, who died in 2006, is considered the band’s creative force during its early years.
Later in the set, the band delivered a rocking rendition of “The Nile Song” along with a delicate version of “Green is the Colour,” both from 1969’s More. Beken coaxed some groovy tones from his bass during “Let There Be More Light,” from 1968’s Saucerful of Secrets. Kemp conjured David-Gilmour-style tones from his white Stratocaster during his many solos.
Before the band unleashed the hallucinatory throb of “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun,” Mason explained that Roger Waters had hogged the gong and that it brought Mason quite a bit of pleasure to be able to play the huge gong that hung behind his kit. As Harris played the droning guitar line, Mason coaxed washes of metallic sound from it.
The band closed out its set with the iconic bass throb of “One of These Days.” Harris provided searing lead guitar with a lap steel, while Beken drove the groove with the chugging bass riff. Against the simplicity of the song’s riff, Mason’s cymbal washes and tom drum work give the song’s simple groove shape and organization.
The band returned for a short encore that included some washes of sound. Mason’s jazzy snare playing floated over the thick sheets of bass and high pitched screeching echoes coming from both guitars. After the amorphous weirdness the band closed out the encore with a rocking version of “Point Me at the Sky,” a B-side from Pink Floyd’s 1968 single, “Careful with that Axe, Eugene.”
The evening began with an opening set from acoustic act Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, the solo project of singer-songwriter Sam Duckworth. The British vocalist gave an upbeat performance. Duckworth played songs from his 2018 album, Young Adult, in addition to a new song he debuted about how wonderful the world was before social media. It was hard to tell if it was parody. Duckworth’s charismatic stage presence and powerful singing voice filled the theater and set the tone for an evening of extraordinary music.