Syd Barrett would've approved. That thought cycled many times through my mind, which repeatedly got blown last night at Paramount Theatre by Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets.
Dubbed for this tour as "The Heartbeat of Pink Floyd," drummer Nick Mason earned this victory lap with a dazzling 22-song, 100-minute set that was nostalgia-rock at its finest. (See the setlist here.)
Let's acknowledge that the man who kept time for the British space-rock pioneers from 1965 to 2014 surely has enough money to never splash a cymbal or bang a gong for the rest of his life; he's 75. But here he was, leading a strong quintet—Floyd/David Gilmour bassist Guy Pratt, Spandau Ballet’s [!!] Gary Kemp (guitar, vocals), Blockheads guitarist Lee Harris, and producer/composer Dom Beken (keyboards)—to both recreate and embellish some of the greatest rock songs the world has ever known... or ever will know. Diamond geezer, that Nick. (I'd like to take this opportunity to encourage you to listen to Mason's 1981 solo LP, Fictitious Sports, a masterpiece of new-wave eccentricity—with all songs written by Carla Bley, to boot—that you'd not expect from a rock-god multi-millionaire.)
Focusing on Floyd's repertoire from 1967-1972 (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn through Meddle) is a genius move, as it appeals to the band's most hardcore aficionados—those who've been obsessing over the band for decades. Granted, there are many great moments in the group's catalog from 1973 onward, but I daresay we've been overexposed to them via radio and other mediums.
Certainly, many people probably had given up hope of hearing Floyd's deathless, pre-Dark Side of the Moon tunes performed live by at least one original member. Thankfully, Saucerful of Secrets treated these venerable compositions with both the reverence they deserve while occasionally extemporizing on some of the more free-form pieces ("Interstellar Overdrive," "Astronomy Domine," "Saucerful of Secrets," "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun").
Mason sequenced the songs extremely well. Opening with the psychedelic epics "Interstellar Overdrive" and "Astronomy Domine" was ballsy; following them with the groovy hip-swiveler "Lucifer Sam" and the sprung buoyancy of "Fearless" brought us back to earth ingeniously. Thus, the show proceeded, blasting us off into deep space ("One of These Days"—so massive and elemental), then caressing us with beautiful ballads ("If," "Green Is the Colour," "Childhood's End"), then facilitating some air-punching with, as Pratt introduced it, the "dumb-arse rock and roll" of "The Nile Song." And the late Richard Wright's "Remember a Day" was rendered as gorgeously as it appeared on 1968's A Saucerful of Secrets.
Mason and co. also bestowed those early singles that made the Relics collection essential: "Arnold Layne," "See Emily Play," the madcap laff-riot of "Bike." Most shocking of all, SOS played "Vegetable Man," the deepest of deep PF cuts, whose specialness Mason explained after they blessed us with it: "It was never officially released and never officially finished, so we thought it would be a quite nice thing to include. And it's a good way to remind ourselves that without Syd Barrett, none of us would be here tonight." I couldn't have been the only one in the house who was gobsmacked and teary-eyed.
The encore was extraordinary. "Saucerful of Secrets" began with a panoply of horror-film scare tactics reminiscent of Ennio Morricone's Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, plus much bashing of Roger Waters's on-loan gong, before shifting into wistful, big-sky rock. And speaking of the firmament, finishing with the jauntily quirky obscurity "Point Me at the Sky" was the perfect surprise ending... plus, it closes on the word "goodbye."
The only real disappointment was the lack of "Cymbaline" from More and "The Grand Vizier's Garden Party," Mason's non-crowd-pleasing solo joint from Ummagumma. But that quibble was demolished by the sensation that a psych-rock OG was guiding us through the farthest-out domains of one of rock's most beneficently influential canons. Shine on, you sane gem.