The Orpheum in Boston is a fantastic venue. I went to go see Conor Oberst and Willy Mason there, after the venue was changed to the one down the street. The Orpheum was slightly bigger than the Tremont Temple, and it was literally a block away.
Getting into the theatre, which was chilly and barren, I took a seat four rows back from the front. As the venue started filling up, the anticipation was rising. We were all about to see who we were there for. However, there was a performer that had to do his set before Oberst stepped up.
Willy Mason is a singer-songwriter who I didn’t expect to be good at all. I saw him with his receding hairline and gorgeous guitar, and he didn’t look like he was going to wow us. In all honesty, I think people were just praying he was going to have a short set. But the second he opened his mouth, a hush fell over the crowd.
I think there may have only been a few real fans of him in the audience, but everyone respected the guy. I couldn’t tell what I thought for the first few songs, but all I knew was that he had a beautiful singing voice. It was so pure and so strong and clean, and that pulled me in. Even though he was jetlagged from getting in from London that morning, I could barely tell when he sang like a canary and blew me away. Claiming his "voice was in another time zone", he excused if his voice was a bit "off" during the songs of his with a higher register.
An audience member wanted him to do the song "No Room For Doubt", which he did with LeighAnn LaHavas, and he claimed he "can't do it without LeighAnn". Instead, he sang "Save Myself", which, regardless of the jetlag, was great. It seemed like a difficult song to do period, and he tried his hardest. Personally, I wouldn't have been able to identify that anything was wrong with his voice if he hadn't said a word.
I ended up hanging on his every word. He wasn't just singing songs he wrote, he was singing us pure poetry. "I wanna speak louder than Ritalin for all the children who think that they've got a disease," was my favourite line of the night. I think he hit home with all of us. Crooning and gentle, honest and poignant, I found myself entirely captivated in just watching this man; I could’ve watched him play guitar for hours and hours. The way his hands moved on the guitar seemed effortless and well-rehearsed.
Nearing the end of his set, I glanced around the crowd and noticed others around me entirely caught up in making sure they didn’t miss a single move this guy made, or a single word he sang. Instead of him being a placeholder and the crowd wanting him off, now, bring us Conor, he was an artist we unexpectedly fell in love with.
He finished his set and I sat back in my seat, impressed. He is a genuinely talented musician, and I thoroughly appreciated Conor’s effort to have an opening act who’s great. Willy Mason is a beautiful songwriter, with a lasting impact.