November 30th 2005
Shepherds Bush Empire, London, UK
Before I proceed with the review, just a little background on how I first became aware of Roger Hodgson and Supertramp.
In the early 70's, like most young boys at that time I was primarily listening to pretty much anything on the radio, particularly glam rock bands like Sweet, Wizzard, Gary Glitter, Slade etc, and pretty much most of the typical bubblegum pop music of the day. And anything else by the big bands of the day like Floyd, Zeppelin, Cream, Deep Purple etc was usually considered long hair hippy music and just too weird or heavy by myself and my friends.
But all that changed when I heard the track Dreamer on the radio, and remember thinking this is different...it's not quite like anything else in the charts, and I really like it. Then I saw the band on Top Of The Pops and I was a bit put off to see that they resembled the "long haired hippy types" that I usually did not like - so this was pretty much a sea change for me, a turning point.
Crucially, it was the point at which my musical tastes began to mature.
Next stage was to listen to the album, but albums were expensive for a young kid back then - so I persuaded a friend to "borrow" a copy of his older sisters Crime Of The Century album, and proceeded to play it almost non-stop for the next 3 months. Of course, being a kid I had no concept of how to look after records, so it ended up scratched to hell, so when I gave it back his sister was understandably none too happy. I obviously had to replace it, but it was worth it because I was now a confirmed Supertramp fan.
To this day I still think the Crime Of The Century is a landmark album, not just for me personally but universally. It says something for the quality of the musicianship and song writing when you can still listen to the same album and get the same enjoyment from it 30 years later. And I will also say it has one of the best production jobs of any album - a wonderfully clean, pristine and uncluttered sound. (which sounded even better on the recent remasters). Not a wasted note on the whole album, and every song a bonafide classic.
A year or so later I saw that the band were due to play the Empire theatre in Livepool UK, and I had never actually been to a concert before. So a friend and I decided to make the trip and watch our first-ever live concert. Joan Armatrading was the support (accompanied by a band called The Movies, wonder what happened to them?), and very fine she was too. Supertramp had just released the album Crisis, What Crisis (which I had not yet heard), and I remember the stage had a deck chair, table and sunshade just like the album cover. It was absolutely magical - of course I cannot remember a lot of the specifics about it now, but a few things that stick in my mind was John Helliwells humorous between song chats, the comical reaction that Rick Davies got from the crowd when he sung those opening "duck-like" vocals on Poor Boy, and of course that famous film of the Crime Of The Century cover that played on the backdrop during the title track. I also remember going down to the front of the stage during that song, and my friend decided it would be a good idea to stick his head inside one of the PA speakers...his ears were ringing for days afterwards.
I remember initially being slightly disappointed by the Crisis album, seemed more guitar based that Crime Of The Century and I did tend to favour keyboard based bands in those days, but once I got into it I soon learned to appreciate it, and now regard it as much a classic as Crime Of The Century.
I think I may have seen the band live at the same venue again a year or two later, but cannot be sure. Later I moved down to London to live, and I do remember buying the Even In The Quietest Moments album, which again saw a change in direction to a more commercial, radio friendly sound. I liked it, but it did not seem like the same, classic sound of old to me. But yet again, with the passage of time I have learned to appreciate it a lot more.
During the 80's I have to admit I did lose touch a lot - I heard the singles on the radio etc, like Breakfast In America, Logical Song et al, and though they sounded very poppy indeed. Nothing wrong with a good pop song, but it was not quite the classic sound I remembered. I did see the band live one more time at Earls Court in London, on the Famous Last Words album tour and enjoyed it a lot, but still did not get round to buying any of the newer albums around that time.
And so it remained, even after Roger left. I bought one or two live CD's, the odd retrospective etc, but that was it. I did also buy Roger's In The Eye Of The Storm CD a few years back, which I quite liked.
I mention all of the above because as I said Supertramp were the first "grown-up" band I listened to as a child, and as a result they opened the door for me to a lot of the progressive bands I eventually started listening to. Once I had gotten over that "weird hippy stuff" barrier there was no stopping me. That is one of the reasons I am posting this review of what is essentially a pop concert on this site, but also because I think a lot of Supertramp's earlier material, while not strictly progressive in the Yes/ Floyd/Genesis sense, could still be adventurous, epic and often dealt with unconventional subject matters; check out Asylum from Crime...very dark and disturbing. Secondly, a lot of their songs contain very some very interesting, lengthy instrumental workouts, such as on Fools Overture, School, Rudy, Crime Of The Century and Goodbye Stranger.
So...when I saw Roger was playing in London, I knew it was a rare event and decided I could not pass up the opportunity.
History lesson over, now for the review...
It had, unbelievably, been 22 years since Roger had played a major gig in the UK. A very large, and very appreciative crowd greeted Roger at Shepherds Bush Empire tonight; in fact it was very much a hero's welcome. And he was genuinely taken aback at the reception and was in great form, especially during his witty between-song banter. The stage was almost bare save for a few plants, a grand piano, a single keyboard (with some pre-programmed bass/keyboard parts to fill out the sound), one single acoustic guitar and a very talented sax/woodwind player by the name of Aaron Macdonald to accompany him. I was a little apprehensive as to how the songs sound with such a stripped-down treatment - how would my beloved old Supertramp faves come across unplugged?
No worries. I could not get over how absolutely huge and full the sound was considering the minimal instrumentation - Rogers voice just brings a lump to your throat as soon as he starts to sing. The opener was Give A Little Bit, and it soon became clear that this was going to be very much a sing along evening, with just so many old faves - Logical Song, Dreamer, If Everyone Was Listening, Two Of Us, Sister Moonshine, Take The Long Way Home...and a couple of real unexpected delights - namely Hide In Your Shell (probably my all time fave), and School, with Aaron Macdonald handling keyboard duties and Roger on acoustic and the crowd being encouraged to provide the various backing noises and other instrumentation - which of course we all did with suitable enthusiasm.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the concert was that it seemed every time my friend and I said something like "Wouldn't it be great if he played...?", and sure enough he pretty much played everything we wanted to hear - the man must be psychic! One of those highlights was his rendition of what for me is simply one of the best and most uplifting pop songs ever written - the sublime, uplifting It's Raining Again.
It was around this time that I noticed a lot of the crowd looking up to the left of the upstairs balcony, and realised that they were looking at a certain Mr John Helliwell. There were calls from the crowd for him to come down an accompany Roger on one of the songs, but John graciously declined - perhaps on the basis that as far as he was concerned, the man on stage accompanying Roger was already doing a more than capable job.
There were a few solo pieces too, Lovers In The Wind and Open The Door plus the occasional new song, including the epic and wonderfully named Keep The Pigeons Warm. Even though I was not as familiar with Rogers solo work as I would have liked, they still sounded superb. After two encores (the aforementioned School and Two Of Us), what better way to end the evening with the concert opener Give A Little Bit. No complaints about repetition whatsoever from the assembled crowd, and greeted with just as much rapture as when it was played at the beginning of the set.
I can tell you we all had sore throats by the end of the evening, but it was well worth it.
There was also a slight feeling of déjà vu tonight - a month or so before Jon Anderson had played a solo set at the same venue, and there are some similarities; two singers playing solo versions of band songs with minimal instrumentation, both singers have similar vocal ranges, are of similar age and have pretty much the same outlook on life. Roger probably has the edge on Jon in the musical ability stakes, but looking back on both concerts I would simply have to put it like this - I liked Jon Anderson, but I loved Roger Hodgson.
Hands down, so far this year it was just the best and most enjoyable concert I have yet been to.
Give A Little Bit
Take The Long Way Home
Lovers In The Wind
Hide In Your Shell
Keep The Pigeons Warm
Easy Does It
Sister Moonshine (abridged)
Breakfast In America
Open The Door
Only Because Of You (inc. Fools Overture excerpt)
New song (?)
Even In The Quietest Moments
Don't leave Me Now
If Everybody Was Listening
It's Raining Again
Two Of Us
Give A Little Bit