”They say I’m wise beyond my years,” 20-year-old Willy Mason sang during his hour-plus set at T.T. the Bear’s on Wednesday night.
It’s true that the Martha’s Vineyard-based indie folk troubadour is known for songwriting sophistication and onstage poise. Even more remarkable, the lyric was from one of his older songs, ”Live It Up,” a mournful ballad he penned during high school detention.
Old songs and new songs alike were greeted enthusiastically by a full room of devoted fans, who sang along throughout Mason’s relaxed but impassioned performance.
Although his appearance was aged by his ”Death of a Salesman”-style fedora and thick-framed glasses, Mason displayed an innocent grace onstage. He often smiled in response to the audience or his own performance as he sang his way through much of his debut album, ”Where the Humans Eat.” Originally released in 2004 on Team Love Records, run by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes, the album was re-released by Astralwerks in March.
Taking the stage alone, Mason showed off his soulful vocals and finger-picked guitar during the bouncy blues rocker ”Gotta Keep Moving.” He was then accompanied by singer-violist Nina Violet, who added Old World elegance to ”Where the Humans Eat” and worn folkiness to ”Hard Hand to Hold.”
After being joined by a three-piece backing band that included his younger brother Sam on drums, Mason played four new songs that revealed eclectic influences, from the reggae swing of ”We Got Work to Do” to the bluesy waltz of ”Raise This Roof.”
Returning for a four-song encore, Mason looked bashful but happy as the crowd sang along to his breakout single, ”Oxygen.” The night’s inclusive, joyful mood reigned as he closed with an audience member’s request for the jazzy ”21st Century Boy.”
Singer-guitarist Jabe established the show’s old-time charm with his opening set of wistful blues ballads.
Members of local alt-country rock outfit Frank Smith delivered a banjo and lap steel-laced set of gauzy ballads and folk rock-ers.