Thursday, August 15, 2013

Adrian's Summer/Fall Concert Blitz, Part 2: Roger Hodgson, Mountain View Plaza, Snoqualmie Casino, Snoqualmie, WA, 8/12/13

It was almost a year to the day that Roger Hodgson last played at this same venue, an outdoor pavilion surrounded by tall evergreens and gorgeous mountains, about 30 miles east of where I live. At the 2012 show, seeing Roger was a dream come true -- he's long been one of my favorite singers. I remember being struck by how happy and relaxed he seemed, with a smile that rarely left his face. There was an amazing down-to-earth humility about a guy who was a multimillion-selling artist with Supertramp.

But it made sense, in a way, that he appeared so happy and grateful to still be touring and connecting with his audience after all these years. After all, Roger left Supertramp at the height of the band's fame, making a very un-rock-star-like decision to spend more time with his family. Supertramp rolled on without him, and despite making some great music as a solo artist in the years since then, Roger found that he didn't have much name recognition outside the band that made him famous.

Now that his children are grown, he's been back on the road for the past several years, and it seems that people are making the connection again between his distinctive high tenor voice and Supertramp's best-known songs, from "The Logical Song" to "Give a Little Bit." His enthusiasm poured out into his performance at Monday night's show -- so much so that he said he felt in the prime of his life, even though he's 63 years old.

After opening the show with the Supertramp hit "Take the Long Way Home," Roger greeted the crowd with a warm hello and urged us to forget about our worries for the next two hours. He encouraged us to do whatever the music moved us to do -- laugh, cry, dance, or sing along, "no matter what your neighbor may say." He also seemed to enjoy ribbing all the stragglers who wandered in from the adjoining casino. "You're late!" he said with a smile, on more than one occasion. "You just missed the best song!"

The vast majority of the show consisted of Supertramp material, as Roger moved around the stage from song to song, alternating among his 12-string guitar, a grand piano, and his all-purpose keyboard near the front of the stage -- which is where he spent a good part of the evening hammering out those percussive piano and electric-piano rhythms that are such a distinctive part of the Supertramp sound. Think "The Logical Song," "Dreamer," "Child of Vision," and so many more great tunes built on those insistent eighth-note and sixteenth-note foundations.

The highlight for me this time around, just as last time, was Roger's performance of the 11-minute Supertramp epic "Fool's Overture," which in my estimation is just about the best thing Roger has ever written. I think there are lots of potential interpretations of the lyrics, from a critique of post-World War II Britain, to a lament over how the modern world has forsaken its heroes and redeemers and floats aimlessly adrift, having lost its way. Either way, it's a grand piece of music brimming with heartfelt emotion.

I've always had the sense that Roger's lyrics are very personal to him. He shared several stories about what an individual song meant to him at that point in his life -- "Hide in Your Shell" in particular -- and he said the proudest moments of his career have been when he's found that the messages in his songs have "helped" other people. I can relate to that, since music touches my being like no other art form. When you wrap sympathetic songs about the human condition inside irresistible jazz, folk, pop, and rock compositions, the way Roger has done so masterfully for so many years, you can't help being affected by what you're hearing. In fact, Roger played us a new tune he wrote called "The Awakening," and its simple message of finding the strength to forgive ourselves resonated out from the simple but very moving 12-string arrangement. After all these years, he still has what it takes to tug at the heartstrings.

And then there are fun little confections like "Breakfast in America." You know the one:

Take a look at my girlfriend, she's the only one I got
Not much of a girlfriend, I never seem to get a lot

Roger seems to love playing it, but he was almost apologetic about the lyrics: "I wrote this song when I was 19, and I was feeling rather whimsical that day. When we finally got around to recording it 20 years later, it was too late to change the words!"

At the end of the song, he launched the band into a few more bars to let his sax player cut loose a little bit longer on the solo. I have to take a moment to give a proper shout-out here to Aaron MacDonald, who played everything from alto, tenor, and soprano sax to keyboards, a recorder, and various percussion instruments -- and he provided both backing vocals and sang Rick Davies' Supertramp parts flawlessly. He was on fire all night long, and he looked like he was having the time of his life. The soprano sax solo at the end of "Breakfast" earned him a standing ovation.

Roger himself seems to have not lost a thing with age. His voice has held up amazingly well, and he can still climb up the register to hit some of those insanely high notes, like the stratospheric E-flat on the "who I am" line just before the instrumental break in "The Logical Song," or going an octave above middle C on "Fool's Overture." It's no wonder Yes considered him as a replacement for Jon Anderson at one time. I don't think there are a whole lot of male singers who can comfortably reach the higher elevations like that.

Speaking of Yes, Roger at one time collaborated on a few songs with former Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin. One of them, "Walls," ended up on Yes' 1994 album Talk. Another one, "The More I Look," found a home on Roger's criminally underrated 2000 solo album Open the Door. It was from that album that Roger played one song on Monday night, "Death and a Zoo." That was a treat, but I was really hoping Roger would surprise us with the album's lead-off track, "Along Came Mary," which is just a gorgeous, swooping love ballad. Seriously, it's a goosebump kind of song. Roger didn't play it last year, either, and if I had any disappointments during the evening, not hearing Roger perform that piece would have been it. I was also a little surprised that he didn't play "It's Raining Again," which was pretty much the only one of his Supertramp hits that he skipped over.

But those are minor complaints, and they were certainly forgotten as we all gathered around the stage for the encore, when Roger strapped on his 12-string guitar and, smiling ear to ear, said, "This is why I still do this." And when he played the opening chord to "Give a Little Bit," a knowing, happy cheer rose up from the crowd, and we all danced and sang along at the top of our voices.

Roger played to a crowd maybe 5% the size of what Paul McCartney commanded at Safeco Field, but the atmosphere was every bit as celebratory at Roger's show. I think the audience fed off his enthusiasm all night.

At both his 2012 show and this one, Roger commented on how much he loved visiting this part of the country, and he said he'd love to come back again. If he does, I'll certainly be there, just like the two times before.

I'll keep coming back until he finally plays "Along Came Mary"!

And seriously, if you're in any way a fan of Roger Hodgson or Supertramp, you owe it to yourself to pick up his solo album Open the Door. It is astounding. Pretty much a lost Supertramp album. You can get it -- autographed, no less -- right here:


Take the Long Way Home
In Jeopardy (from his solo album In the Eye of the Storm)
Lovers in the Wind (also from In the Eye of the Storm)
Hide in Your Shell
Sister Moonshine
Breakfast in America
C'est Le Bon
The Logical Song
Death and a Zoo (from his solo album Open the Door)
If Everyone Was Listening
The Awakening
Child of Vision
Fool's Overture


Two of Us
Give a Little Bit

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