November 23rd, 2006
Under most circumstances, I am not interested in writing about "what happened yesterday" or "what we did on the weekend". I mean, it happens, but I always try to frame it within a larger context. The reason is simple and very personal/selfish: I don't want to come back to my rants months or years later and read about a little slice of life that has become pointless and out of context. I want something substantive to read.
But it's been more than three years since I started these rants, so I am going to break the rule and talk about the show I went to last night:
Roger Hodgson: Take the Long Way Home
First off, let me say that he really did take the long way home, considering the last time he was here in Vancouver (which, by the way, was the last time I saw him) was as a member of Supertramp in 1983. I remember: my friend Joe and I sat in BC Place and watched as he and the other members of Supertramp (at least, that's who they said they were: they were so small from where I sat that they could easily have been imposters) played all my favourite childhood Supertramp songs as well as the latest ones.
Last night, and long-divorced from Supertramp, Roger Hodgson entertained about 2,000 people at the Orpheum Theatre. A far cry from the 50,000 cheering lighter-raising fans that made up the ocean of 1983, but because of the intimacy of the show, nobody seemed to really care that things had shrunk in scale by a factor or two.
And it's that intimacy that gave us something I found interesting and quite revealing about Roger Hodgson: Early in the show, he sat at the piano and commented on how attractive the Orpheum theatre was. He looked at the back of the stage and said, "Look at those arches!", talking about the arched wall. Then, directed at the lighting man at the back of the theatre, "Are you going to take advantage of them?" And with that lights were turned on to highlight the beautiful architecture. That is a point of detail that perfectly exemplified the show. He may have been practically a one-man band, but every detail that he could control was calculated to the ninth decimal place. Now, he's an experienced performer, of course. He played shows ever-increasing in size starting in the early 1970s, reaching stadium anthemic status in the 1980s. He knows through experience how to put on a show, and he's learned that the devil is in the details. But there was a sheen of professionalism and a determined effort to make sure all the little details were taken care of so that his sparsely-produced show had no blemishes.
And his attention to detail extended, of course, to his performance. He devoted a lot of effort to making sure that the playing of his keyboards and guitars was crisp and sharp, and his vocal pitch and timbre spot-on. Think about it for a moment: How many old acts have you seen where the band or musician runs through an "oldie" as though you were all sitting around a pub piano and having a few pints and singing just for old time's sake? We are often asked to indulge these old musicians as they spend more time having fun than actually performing it with professionalism and care. But Hodgson really applied the work ethic to these songs ... and you could tell he had just as much fun doing it the "right" way as some other musician might have just going through the motions. I really respect that; some of the songs he did were more than 30 years old, and he could have done them in his sleep ... but he didn't, and that made a very positive energy for the audience. We could just tell he was giving us his best, and we were grateful for it.
About those songs: As I said they went back as far as Crime of the Century, the 1974 album that really put Supertramp and Hodgson on the map, and there was even one song ("Rosie Had Everything Planned") from the 1972 album, Indelibly Stamped (which, by the way, is a curiously eclectic pre-fame Supertramp looking for a sound with a significantly different line-up of musicians, and a for-the-time taboo photo of a woman's naked tattooed breasts on the cover). Hodgson did all the Supertramp songs that one would come to expect, and he quelled doubts of just how well they would come off if he was performing them alone on piano or guitar, or with his "helper" who sometimes played the saxophone. And what I realised is that all those old standards could easily be carried on one instrument. Although there was a lot of production that went into creating the recorded versions of those Supertramp songs, it was always based on the piano composition or the guitar composition. And removing the drums and the bass and the overdubbed voices and other enhancements revealed that the heart of the song was always the instrument it was written on. The studio versions of these songs relied on the songwriter's performance more than I had realised. So "Dreamer", "Take the Long Way Home", or "Even in the Quietest Moments" played on nothing but a keyboard really sounded faithful to the studio versions, despite there being no additional parts. The above-mentioned attention to detail is a contributing factor to this, as well: If you can only hear a portion of the song, it ought to be flawlessly executed. And it was.
As I said, there was an additional musician named Aaron MacDonald who added saxophone to some of the songs, and even added a vocal harmony or two. He unobtrusively walked on stage during the songs to add some enhancement or other, then slunk back into the wings. He was a "Canadian musician picked up somewhere in Ontario" ... and he took absolutely no spotlight away from Hodgson, even when Hodgson wanted to get him involved in the banter. (In fact, he behaved just like a "Canadian musician picked up somewhere in Ontario.") He was significantly younger than Hodgson so this might have had something to do with it as well.
As far as the age of the audience, there was a wide cross-section of the population. Naturally, there were a lot of baby boomers, but there were a lot of people in their early twenties as well. As my friend and I stood in the lobby finishing our coffee before the show, I watched what was obviously a few different parent-and-child couples walk by. Fathers with sons, mothers with daughters. It made for an interesting audience, for sure, and it speaks volumes about the appeal of Hodgson's music, which was older than some of the people there, and just right for coming-of-age memories for others. As usual, I, as a gen-X-er, sat somewhere in the middle of the two population bulges. I liked watching the interactions between the boomers and their children—neither was ever particularly respectful or reverent of anything, but they co-existed quite peacefully within the framework of a concert. Well, everyone is more than two decades older, I guess. And because of this there were no odd smells of illegal substances burning any more. Besides, heck, this was the Orpheum! Who sparks up a reefer in comfortable chairs above red velvet carpet? About the only thing the blue-shirted security (also looking middle-aged and pudgy) had to control were the folks taking pictures and movies with their cellular phones. Oh, how some things change! Well, at least Hodgson's songs were the same.
But there's something less definable that made the evening more than a little special: It was his positive energy. I know that it's uncharacteristic of me to make such a decidedly unscientific comment, but the show just felt great. Hodgson gave out such warm vibes, even when just walking out onto the stage or strapping on a guitar in the breaks between songs, that I (and everyone else) just had to smile. I know every life sees some rain, and I'm sure that Hodgson has had his own demons to wrestle with in his time, but you really get the sense that he has found a quiet peaceful connection with the world. And he exudes that in such a warm fuzzy way that you want sit and soak it in by way of his songs. My friend and I commented on this last night as we walked to my car: we noted that Hodgson did this, despite performing songs that were sometimes broadly negative in tone—or at least introspective. Songs like "The Meaning", "Lovers in the Wind", or "Lord is it Mine?" would, on paper, seem to bring an audience down a bit, but such was not the case. Wild cheers followed each song. Hodgson seemed a well of good spirits and uplifting energy, and his songs—no matter the tone—were the conduit through which it flowed.
It has left me feeling still uplifted today, despite a slight melancholy that the show is over. I bought my tickets the day they went on sale, more than two months prior to the show, and I waited with more than a little anticipation as the days slowly marched by. Then the big day came and the show flashed past in its 2-1/2 hour blaze of sunshine and joy ... and now I'm left with only the memories of it. I don't often feel such pangs of prior anticipation and post-event sadness, so it is obvious that the show has left more than a small impression on me in my life. It teaches me that even now I can be moved by the right event, and more than anything else that has revived my feelings: I don't have to be dragged unwillingly into middle age if I don't want to be. I can be a kind of young forever, Hodgson can stand on the stage and play the songs of his youth with a renewed vigor that says doors are not closing as one gets older. I can take that lesson and apply it to my own life: I don't have to give up on the dreams I last entertained in 1983 while last watching him. There is a line that connects that past to this present because he shows us that age is absolutely no excuse to stop doing the things we want to and chasing the dreams we dare to have. More than anything else, Hodgson shows that it's never too late to start making our own music again.
So it may have been a long way, but thanks to Hodgson ... I'm home.