Heather wrote a great post about an old old old school Mason Jennings bootleg over at Fuel/Friends on Sunday, and a) it got me digging out all my old Mason boots and b) realizing that I could kick in a little about that show in particular and the Cave shows in general from the perspective of somebody who was there for some of them.
That particular Cave show, from May 22 1998, is the oldest complete-show Mason recording, to the best of my knowledge. There’s a double-disc set floating around out there called Best of the Cave Shows, 1997-98, that includes stuff from all three shows that year — Mason used to play the Cave once a term (Carleton’s on a trimester system) — but I’m not sure they’re all complete shows. There’s no taper listed on the archive.org page, but I’m 95% sure who it is; it’s not my business to go putting his name on the internet but if you will positively literally die without knowing that information for your ID3 tags, email me. It is a soundboard recording. I’d guess board to MiniDisc to CD, but I’m not positive.
The Cave is a grimy student-run pub in the basement of the dorm where I lived junior year; it serves shitty food, Ben and Jerry’s, and what’s colloquially known at Carleton as 3/2 beer: 3.2% alcohol beer. (The only booze you can buy on Sundays in Rice County, and then only at gas stations from noon to eight. You also pee it out faster than it can get you drunk.) The bathrooms were terrifying, and in 1999, when Mason played there, students would pack it twice-capacity to see him; there’s a track on the Winter ’99 Cave show where Rob Skoro talks about how they’re going to keep playing because they can’t go anywhere, the place is too full. Carleton kids of my generation loved Mason something stupid awful.
The particular Mason show in question is a killer one; it’s full of songs I adore that never made it to albums, like “Joy” and “Better Than That” and “The Magician”. An early version of “Crown”, which would end up on Use Your Voice in a very different form in 2004. And Heather notes that this version of “California (Part 1)” is her favorite, and it’s mine, too, but for a different reason. For the spot at the beginning where he starts the song and some people in the crowd whoop, and Mason laughs, short and sharp, utterly delighted by their delight in him. This was 1998. He was just a baby then, barely 23, just before the regular gigs at the 400 Club started. My heart turns over with love, every time I hear that laugh.
I can also highly recommend this early show, which was taped at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN, though the archive says venue unknown. (I know this because Gustavus is the only venue in St. Peter.)
And if you’re a Mason fan and harboring any of the following live itema, hand ’em over, stat: the Cave Spring ’99 show; the Carleton/Olaf Spring Concert ’99 or ’01 shows; the December ’01 St. Olaf show; anything from Chicago between late ’02 and early ’05; anything from the Boneclouds tour when he was doing that killer cover of “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore”; his cover of “King of Carrot Flowers”. Please and thank you. I have a lot of Mason bootlegs, but I also have a lot of holes in my collection that I wish I could fill.