Review and Photos by Bob Adamek – [email protected]
The New Mastersounds, simply put, are a phenomenal band to see. The fact that they love playing music and love playing music with each other can’t be hidden from the audience. Whether playing in front of thousands of people at All Good Fest, or sixty people in Roanoke VA on a Sunday night, the quartet from Leeds, England can’t help but enjoy themselves and give a maximum effort. This is a band of musicians that gets “It”. They get to tour the world, see so many places and play with so many world class musicians, yet they are genuinely happy to be playing in a small town in front of a small audience that appreciates what they are seeing. They seemed amazed that people in such a venue have heard of them and are so psyched to see them.
On this night they were playing at the Blue 5 in Roanoke, VA. In the Blue 5, owner Bryant Cass has created a warm atmosphere. The stage has a nice Asian rug and the back and sides of the stage are covered with black curtains backing strings of small blue lights. There is also a beautiful iron fence surrounding the back and sides of the stage. All this makes it feel comfortable, as if you are in a nice house during the holidays. The night began with the Chicago based, turned road warrior funk band, Lubriphonic. This band writes a really nice variety of songs, all of which have solid grooves as their base, and a nice funky feel.
The NMS came straight from the Sonoma Film Festival where their documentary film “Coals to Newcastle, The New Mastersounds: From Leeds to New Orleans” had just premiered. Guitarist Eddie Roberts said that the showing of the film was a strange experience, sitting in the balcony, watching people laugh at things he was saying up on the big screen. The laughter is brought on by Eddie and drummer Simon Allen’s British sense of humor. Their on mic banter in between songs carries the dry wit that any fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus will at once recognize and enjoy.
When the NMS started to play, I was immediately struck by the communication between all four musicians. The music has the feel of the best of the New Orleans based, funk deities, the Meters, but the musical conversation that takes place during the songs requires each of them to keep a sharp eye and ear on the other. The NMS songs have strong melody lines which are backed by infectious grooves. I have rarely seen a band so locked in when they are playing. Eddie and keyboardist Joe Tatton handle the solos and both guys are adept at keeping the focus on the song, rather than letting the song focus on their solo. They are bound to the music and devoted to its success, rather than using the moment to show off their own ability. Eddie’s solos glide effortlessly from funky chordal passages to melodic octave phrases to blistering single note runs. Joe has an amazing agility on the keyboard and bridges a wide variety of styles throughout his solos. Bass player Pete Shand’s right hand is so locked to Simon Allen’s right foot, they seem born of the same DNA.
The most electric moment of the night came during a series of sit ins by the opening band. Lubriphonic’s horn section came up, comprised of Ron Haynes on trumpet (also of Soul Live and Lenny Kravitz) and Norman Palm on trombone. Ron took on a no holds barred ride, giving his trumpet all it could handle, followed by more of the same by Norman on the ‘Bone. Eventually this turned into a frenzied trading of licks between the two horn players and Eddie. When there is a sit in, the audience gets the feeling of seeing something special, something one of a kind, and this one did not disappoint.
A great part of any of the New Mastersounds shows I’ve seen is the chance to talk to and hang out with the guys after a show. They are seriously smart, kind and friendly people. They are as genuine as their music, do not miss them if you have the chance.