The New Mastersounds are sort of like a hybrid strain of cannabis. The music has an uplifting effect, yet one that’s blended with a relaxed vibe.
It was a Wednesday night in the central part of town and there was a relatively new venue vying for the San Diego music scene’s attention. Situated just outside the trending North Park area in the less trendy yet growing City Heights neighborhood, the Hideout is well positioned to be a player in the local scene. It’s a classy joint that offers a much improved vibe from the similar sized hole in the wall atmosphere of the Soda Bar down the street. But could the small venue handle an international touring band like the New Mastersounds?
The club has gone through several incarnations and has been remodeled with a more upscale decor recalling some of the watering holes in Austin, Texas with smooth wood paneling, colorful lighting and a wall full of Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. There’s also a heady craft beer selection that puts other local venues like the House of Blues, Balboa Theater and Belly Up Tavern to shame. It’s a fine place for drinking, watching a game or a local band that won’t pack the place. But a band with a built in draw is another question. The 150 capacity is technically the same as the Casbah downtown, but the layout doesn’t have as much extra space. Thus the merch table was set up outside on the sidewalk.
It was clearly apparent during the opening set from the Sure Soul Fire Ensemble that elbow room would be at a premium. Trying to get a spot with both a view of the band and sound not interfered with by chatty talkers in the back would be tricky. Of course the reason the room was packed is because the New Mastersounds have been building a rep over the past decade as top purveyors of funky grooves for party people. The quartet out of Leeds, England puts a modern stamp on vintage soul-jazz, old school funk and psyche-rock influences. The Meters are an obvious influence and some jams sound similar to New Orleans’ Galactic and San Diego’s own Greyboy Allstars, strong company all.
The New Mastersounds bring perhaps a little more of that vintage soul in their sound and a little less jazz with no horn section. But guitarist Eddie Roberts leads a tight unit with a surging chemistry that has become increasingly known across the land for their good time dance parties. Roberts is a rhythm ace, mixing up funky comping with nifty lead licks on his semi-hollowbody guitar. Bassist Pete Shand and drummer Simon Allen form a groovy rhythm section while keyboardist Joe Tatton is a force on Hammond organ and piano. Roberts has also recently done some moonlighting with the Everyone Orchestra in Denver, demonstrating a connection with the jamrock scene that has become a key element of the New Mastersounds’ draw. It’s adventurous music for intrepid souls.
The band can throw down one high energy dance jam after another, yet they also like to mix in some lower tempo lounge grooves that could fit in at a retro club where Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell might hang out. Their new album Therapy does an expert job of mixing up tempos and grooves. Many of the songs walk a fine line between groovy and chill. One group of fans might be getting down to a tune, while another group is just nodding their heads while sipping on a cold one. It takes great skill to walk that line and the band has clearly worked to hone their craft in that regard. The New Mastersounds are sort of like a hybrid strain of cannabis. The music has an uplifting effect, yet one that’s blended with a relaxed vibe. Fans can go either way.
The band hit the stage around 11 pm and the Hideout was completely jammed in the early part of the show. The air was thin for those who fought their way through the crowd to get up closer to be a part of the action. The situation clearly called for better ventilation. Others were content to chill in the back where there was a little breathing room by the bar, as well as more dance space. Some couldn’t make up their minds and went back and forth in conflict. The groovy music called for getting closer. Yet the claustrophobic conditions near the front called for moving back. The younger fans seemed to converge toward the front, while the older ones appeared content to hang out in the back.
But as the set moved past the midnight hour, the crowd started to thin out just a bit as typically occurs during weeknight shows that start on the later side. One could move up by the soundboard, take things in and still be able to breathe. The band kept the energy flowing throughout the proceedings and will surely wind up at a larger venue on their next visit to town.