Monday, July 7, 2014

Concert Review: Roger Hodgson, Mountain View Plaza, Snoqualmie Casino, Snoqualmie, WA, 7/3/14

Roger Hodgson appears to have a soft spot for the Pacific Northwest. He's played at Snoqualmie Casino three summers in a row now, and he said during last week's performance here that he managed to grab the only date the casino still had open for this year's concert season, and that he'd love to come back in 2015 for a fourth year.

If that doesn't speak to his dedication to the fans here, perhaps this does: He and his band flew nearly 6,000 miles to get here, after playing in Sofia, Bulgaria, just two nights earlier.

"Does anybody here know where Bulgaria is?" Roger asked after he finished the night's opening song -- which, appropriately enough, was "Take the Long Way Home." As he was greeted mostly by silence and nervous laughter from his geographically challenged American crowd, I resisted the urge to be the smart guy who shouted out, "Southeastern Europe, near Greece and Turkey!" Being the good-natured guy he is, Roger just smiled and said, "Well, do you know where Spain is? It's nowhere near there."

Roger said he felt as if his body was still in Bulgaria, and with the rest of his band presumably feeling the same, he promised us an evening in which "anything could happen." It's anyone's guess what the guys had to do to prepare themselves for such a dramatic change of location in so short a time -- and for his part, Roger wasn't talking. "I can't tell you what happened backstage before the show," he said with a gleam in his eye -- to which one member of the crowd behind me yelled out, "It's legal now, Roger!"

After the Snoqualmie show, Roger would be off to Chicago for another performance, and then his tour would shut down for a few weeks before he headed back over to Europe. He's earned the break -- but he needn't have worried that anything might go wrong at the Snoqualmie show, as he and his band sounded as sharp as ever on this warm Northwest evening, with Roger confidently leading the charge. Whether he was sitting at the grand piano to begin the wistful grandeur that is "Fool's Overture," beating out those familiar percussive electric-piano riffs on "Dreamer" and "The Logical Song," or getting us all up to dance and sing as he put on his 12-string to play "Give a Little Bit," Roger exuded the joy of performing music that's a hallmark of his concerts.

Indeed, this is no typical legacy artist going through the motions and bored with his own songs after playing them thousands of times. He brings a bright exuberance to his performance that makes it seem as if he's playing all his wonderful classics for the first time. And the crowd feeds off his joyful energy, making the evening feel less like a concert, where we all sit and listen to the performer, and more like a pure celebration of music, in which Roger pulls us in and makes us part of the ceremony. Imagine sitting around a summer campfire and singing songs with more than a thousand of your closest friends, and that's kind of what it feels like.    

You'd never have guessed it from listening to his flawless performance, but Roger did joke about halfway through the show that his voice was starting to ask him, "What the hell are you doing to me?" Maybe the jet lag was starting to catch up with him? If so, he didn't let it affect his performance for the rest of the evening, though he did mention at that point that he could really go for a cappuccino. And he got one, after the next song was over! Somebody -- my guess is a casino employee -- walked a cup out to him onstage, and Roger nursed it along for the rest of the performance.

Maybe that was the magic elixir that allowed him to hold up through the show, but in any event, he and his band rally did pull off all the old Supertramp hits to perfection once again. And as far as Roger's voice goes, it amazes me that he sounds as if he hasn't aged a day since his Supertramp days. The man is 64 years old, and he has yet to transpose any of his songs down that I can hear. I don't have perfect pitch, but I can tell when a song's key has been changed, and none of his repertoire sounds as if it's been altered to accommodate his voice. A lot of singers start to lose their upper register with age, but Roger's voice still manages to enter the stratosphere on "Fool's Overture," "The Logical Song," and "Dreamer," the last of which has him hitting an E two octaves above middle C. That's amazing.

It's a testament to his band's talents that they also sounded flawless under the challenging circumstances. Roger went out of his way to thank them for their performance, going so far as to point out that everything he and his guys play is done without a click track. If they were in perfect sync, and they were, it was a result of their own remarkable skills. In particular, Roger called out his drummer, whom he says he barely ever notices because they're so perfectly locked in with each other every night onstage.

He also drew attention, and deservedly so, to his all-around utility player, Aaron MacDonald, who so effortlessly moves from one musical duty to another all night on stage. He handles all the woodwinds; he contributes percussion, additional keyboards, and harmony vocals; and he covers Rick Davies' original vocal lines -- and he seems to do it all without ever breaking a sweat. On this night, Aaron and Roger said they were just a few weeks short of their 10th anniversary of playing together, and Aaron took a moment to thank Roger and the audience for the opportunity. Amazing to think that Roger has been performing with Aaron almost as long as he was in Supertramp -- 14 years.

Early on in the show, Roger promised the audience that he was going to play a few songs he usually didn't perform, and he seemed to take a kind of mischievous glee in leaving his band wondering what he had in mind. At one point between songs, he walked over to Aaron's keyboard stand, wearing a big grin, and ripped up what was obviously a setlist for the evening. Not long after that, he stood at the front of the stage, 12-string strapped on, and let the anticipation of his next move hang in the air. "See them?" he asked, tipping his head back toward the band. "They're all waiting to see what I play next."

One song that hadn't apparently been in the evening's playbook was "Love Is a Thousand Times," a gorgeous ballad from his solo album Open the Door. Roger began the song after asking a group of people in the crowd to raise the sign they were holding. From where I sat, I could see the title of the song on the sign, along with what looked like two names underneath it. Maybe there was a couple in attendance who had made that "their song." If so, having Roger honor their request must have been an enormous thrill.

It was clearly a night to fulfill requests and make the crowd happy, because Roger also played a piece for a gentleman who he said took his band out on Lake Washington the day before the show. (That's one of the big lakes in the Seattle area, for those who aren't local.) The man's request was a good one, as Roger dug deep into the Supertramp catalog and pulled out "Babaji," an excellent song that gives listeners a peek into Roger's spiritual side, from the Even in the Quietest Moments album.

But the request that came up before those two was the biggest surprise of all, as Roger called out my name from the stage before his band launched into "Along Came Mary."

Wow! Are you kidding me? The studio version of "Along Came Mary," the hauntingly beautiful lead-off track from Open the Door, has played over the PA as the exit music for Roger's Snoqualmie shows the past two years, and both times I left wishing Roger could have played the song as part of his set. So after I bought my ticket for the show this year, I dropped his management team an e-mail, totally on a whim, and asked if Roger would consider performing the song this year. I didn't expect anything to come of it -- I just figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

Well, as it turns out, it certainly doesn't hurt to ask. Roger's kind gesture made me feel very humbled and very grateful. How many artists would do that for their fans? Here's a guy who has sold millions of albums, is known around the world for his music, and owes his fans nothing -- yet he took the time to make one fan in the crowd happy. That just reinforces in my mind that Roger's smiling enthusiasm -- the happy, kind, gentle, warm, personal, down-to-earth demeanor that flows from the stage during his shows -- is more than just a gimmick. It's genuine and from the heart. He connects directly with his audience in a way few artists do, and little acts of kindness like playing a song I wanted to hear are a big reason why. 

Whatever it is that Roger likes about the Seattle area or the fans here, I sure am glad he keeps coming back, because his concerts are always a highlight of my year. At this show, just as he did the past two years, Roger was smiling from ear to ear and encouraged us to forget our cares for a few hours while we all got lost in the music together. He makes it easy for that to happen -- this year especially, when he went above and beyond to take extra good care of his fans.

See you next year, Roger.


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)

Breakfast in America
Along Came Mary (from his solo album
Open the Door)
Sister Moonshine
The Logical Song
Only Because of You/Lord Is It Mine (medley)
Death and a Zoo (from
Open the Door)
If Everyone Was Listening
Love Is a Thousand Times (from
Open the Door)
Child of Vision
Fool's Overture


Two of Us
Give a Little Bit

No comments:

Post a Comment