From the place that gave us Monty Python, Peter Sellers and Benny Hill, we now have Simon Allen. Sitting at his drum kit, he delivered a pre-concert caveat: His band, The New Mastersounds, is not what it once was. After all, the quartet has been around more than 20 years and is now slowing down.
“Never mind him,” guitarist Eddie Roberts interjected with mock indignation. The guys from Leeds have been together so long that they can goof off like they are family. And, brother, can they play!
Roberts greeted the Crystal Bay Casino audience, and he, Allen, bassist Pete Shand and keyboardist Joe Tatton proceeded to boogaloo for more than two hours. It was Shand’s first Tahoe appearance since emergency spinal surgery in 2017. He looked lean, fit, happy and he was enthusiastically, 102 percent committed to the groove.
After four instrumental songs, a sharp-looking man who had been standing next to Shand playing a tambourine approached the front of the stage. He had the full attention of several females in the audience before he even began to sing. Special guest Lamar Williams Jr. is featured on The New Mastersounds new masterpiece, “Shake It,” and five of the album’s songs were played at the concert.
Williams isn’t an official band member, but he has played most of the group’s big shows in the past year. Local fans heard him for the first time in July at the High Sierra Music Festival, an event close to The New Mastersounds’ heart.
The band played in the United States for just the second time in 2005. The show before their High Sierra debut was at a club in Los Angeles. Only four people attended.
“We have a photograph of the envelope that held our settlement at the end of the night,” Roberts recalled. “It reads, ‘$5 times 4 equals $20. Four Masterminds.’ ”
Roberts’ affection for American music inspired him in college to form an Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers tribute band. He named The New Mastersounds after a 1967 album, “The Mastersounds,” by Wes Montgomery, whose crisp guitar notes influenced Roberts’ style. The early New Mastersounds played covers of The Meters, the funk pioneers out of New Orleans.
High Sierra ‘felt like Monterey Pop’
Roberts’ hero, guitarist Grant Green, was more popular in the United Kingdom than in his native United States. Likewise, The New Mastersounds have their greatest popularity in America. And it really started at High Sierra in 2005.
“To me, it felt like the Monterey Pop Festival,” Roberts said.
While most bands don’t want to be categorized or “put in a box,” The New Mastersounds seamlessly fit in many American boxes, such as funk, soul, jazz and jam.
A skiing fanatic, Roberts has made a permanent home in Colorado. He founded a record label last year, Color Red. His band is touring several resort towns this winter, allowing Roberts to ski in the daytime and play music at night.
The night at Lake Tahoe’s Crystal Bay opened with Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, a five-piece R&B band from Nebraska. That’s right, Nebraska. And they delivered more than a kernel of soul. Hoyer plays Hammond organ and sings baritone. Blake DeForest makes a cornucopia of notes with his trumpet and pedals, and the fresh-faced kid on drums is Harrison Eldorado.
Roberts’ Color Red label brings visiting bands into its Denver studio each week to record a single. After Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal made a song, Roberts was so impressed that he invited the group back to produce and entire album. It will be released in April, Hoyer said.
At home in the Crown Room
As the crowd grew to a comfortable 300 or so, The New Mastersounds took the Crown Room Stage as headliners for the third time. Like many bands, their early Crystal Bay shows were in the smaller Red Room. The guitarist’s side project, Eddie Roberts’ West Coast Sounds, played the Crown Room in 2013. And The New Mastersounds headlined Crown Rooms shows in 2015 with opener Hot Buttered Rum and in 2016 with Turkuaz.
The New Mastersounds have released some 20 albums, and the tight arrangements and crisp musicianship is conducive to studio recordings. But, perhaps paradoxically, hearing the band live is a far more moving experience.
The rhythm section of Allen and Shand create a tempo so tight and danceable that the pocket alone could have been an entire wardrobe. Tatton tastefully fills spaces, his keyboard at times sounding like a saxophone. The band really is all about cool sounds, and Roberts’ clear, exploratory notes are brilliant. It’s obvious why The New Mastersounds are embraced by the jam-band scene. Williams’ vocals – and stage presence – bring more layers to enjoy.
Roberts paused to acknowledge a concertgoer and his girlfriend. The couple from Los Angeles also attended the band’s show the previous night at The Chapel in San Francisco (“The loudest audience response we’ve ever heard,” Roberts said offstage.)
James “Huzie” Hughes has attended about 30 New Mastersounds shows. He fell in love with the band after seeing them at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He also combines ski vacations in Japan to coincide with a New Mastersounds. This winter will be the fifth (Tokyo Jan. 30, Osaka Jan. 31).
After a long set, the band members – all but Allen – stood at the side of the stage, cognizant they would be called back for an encore. Moments after returning to their positions, Allen playfully skampered inside from the cold and was back at his drums. They played speedy arrangements of “Freckles” and “Nervous,” the latter of which turned into a syncopated singalong: “Bap, bap, bap … dap, dap.”
By the time the concert ended, a dusting of snow had fallen at lake level. Monday morning would be a powder day in the mountains. Roberts lamented he didn’t have time to ski. The band had to catch a flight to New York City for a New Year’s Eve show. Never mind the bullocks, The New Mastersounds are not about to slow down.
— Tim Parsons
The New Mastersounds
Crystal Bay Casino, Dec. 29, 2019
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