By MIKE CHAIKEN
I don’t want to sound like a geezer, but I do miss the days when rock music took you on an aural journey.
Whether it was Van Morrison’s jazz explorations on “Astral Weeks,” Yes’s classical flourishes on “Close to the Edge,” or Bruce Springsteen’s Spector-esque “Born to Run,” there was a moment decades ago when artists rose beyond the three minute hook-filled rush of melodies and beat. Instead, they musically meandered over notes, chords, rhythms, and poetic lyrics to take the listener from point A to point B while passing through unexpected territory.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a lot to like about music in 2014. And I love the skill it takes to write a 3 minute single.
But there was something special about that time when artists weren’t afraid to “get epic.”
That’s why it was so great to check out Roger Hodgson at the Ridgefield Playhouse on Nov. 8.
Hodgson was one of the primary voices for Supertramp, which despite pulling off some hits along the way also weren’t afraid to take the listeners on a musical journey.
Hodgson did play his old band’s pop hit singles at the Playhouse. There was “The Logical Song.” There was “Take the Long Way Home.” There was “Give A Little Bit.”
And I know his fans, which including myself, would have been disappointed if he didn’t tackle those familiar Supertramp moments.
But what was a pleasure about the Connecticut performance on his tour was Hodgson’s willingness to offer up more than the expected set list.
Thanks to the concert, I remembered why I loved his “Sister Moonshine,” from Supertramp’s “Crisis? What Crisis?” album. The expansive “Fool’s Overture” from “Even in the Quietest Moments” evoked many fond memories of listening to that album on a cassette. And from the same album, I fell in love with “Babaji” all over again.
Thanks to an adoring audience, Hodgson also was unafraid to delve into his solo career that usually takes a backseat to our Supertramp memories. So, we had “Had A Dream,” which seems to have gained more power over the years. And, although the album kind of got lost in the public eye, he performed several tracks from 2000’s “Open the Door,” such as “Along Came Mary” and the poignant “Death or the Zoo,” which illustrated that album should have gotten more attention than it did.
Throughout the evening, it was easy to ride the wave of Hodgson’s music and go on a journey inside your head. And I wasn’t alone in this feeling. You could see the entire audience was letting Hodgson’s music and words wash over them. There was nary a fidget or dash to the restrooms the entire performance.
The intimacy of the show was definitely a plus. The Playhouse is a mere 500 seats. And Hodgson was only yards away from the back of the orchestra seats. And he could see and hear the audience as if they were on stage with him. So there was plenty of patter back and forth between Hodgson and the audience.
The rapport was especially helpful when Hodgson suffered the bane of the technological age… a computer glitch. As he dove into a fan favorite, “Hide In your Shell,” his keyboard gave out. After several false starts, Hodgson gave up and moved onto another song accompanied by his acoustic guitar. In an arena setting, the sight of an artist fidgeting with equipment may have generated a mass beer run at best or catcalls at worst. Because Hodgson set up a familiar atmosphere in the auditorium, the audience patiently waited, shared his frustration, offered up suggestions. And when Hodgson called for an early intermission so the woe could be cured, the audience graciously accepted the situation.
Hodgson set himself as the audience’s friend. And friends help friends.
Last time around, Hodgson performed with just one other musician. This time around, however, he was onstage with a full band, similarly configured to the Supertramp of old. And the band did a great job in fleshing out Hodgson’s material. And they did an expert job at keeping up with Hodgson as he mixed up the set list, either by will or by necessity.
Hodgson also has to be commended for his vocals. Although his career is heading into four decades, Hodgson was still able to hit all the notes of his younger self. Age also has given a nice seasoning to the timbre of his vocals.
In 2014, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see a band like Supertramp or an artist like Roger Hodgson again. Times have changed. But it was great seeing what once was and seeing that in a concert setting this kind of musical journey still holds resonance for fans who are game to a little orchestral galavanting.
I give Roger Hodgson’s Nov. 8 performance at the Ridgefield Playhouse 4 out of 4 stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN