Roger Hodgson, 5th June 2000
Melkweg, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
By Derk van Mourik
The Magical Song
How I finally wound up at this gig is a story in itself. I had heard from others who had seen Roger Hodgson live on previous occasions that it was an experience not to be missed. So I started asking my acquaintances if any of them were planning on going as well (I hate to go to a gig alone so I try to avoid that if at all possible). I wasn't successful and so I decided not to go. However, I had forgotten to ask the most obvious people: my colleagues at DPRP! And when it became apparent that two of them, Ed and Jerry, were actually going (Jerry was actually on the guest list), all seemed well again. However, the gig had sold out in the meantime! So, once again I was left empty-handed (and Ed as well). But at the last instant, Jerry had to pull out because he was stuck in a traffic jam and would never be able to make it to Amsterdam in time. Ed was unable to change his plans at this late stage and so the honour fell to me to attend the gig in Jerry's name!
The Melkweg (Milkyway) has two halls, of which the largest was hosting a gig by singer Tracy Bonham. I knew the name, but judging from the sort of people that were waiting in line outside to get in, it's not my kind of music (yeugh, what an elitist comment!). Luckily, there were two separate queues, one for the Bonham gig and one for the Hodgson gig, and since the latter was virtually non-existent, I didn't have to wait to get in at all.
The smaller venue (or Old Hall, as it is called officially), is a bit comparable to prog haunts like Uden's De Pul, and Tilburg's 013 (the small hall). The arena can hold about a hundred and fifty people and the balcony can provide for an additional fifty. As I mentioned earlier, the gig was sold out and so the place was packed.
The stage had the look of a living room. There was a very comfortable arm chair at the back of the stage and next to it something that looked like a big standing lamp with a lampshade on it. Then there was a small table with a strange device on it (more on that later), and finally Roger's instruments: a synth/keyboard and two acoustic guitars.
I'm quite familiar with the music of Supertramp, especially the more popular tunes of course, but Roger's solo material is virtually unknown to me. I did hear his first solo album a few times, though (Sleeping with the enemy I've known for a long time but I didn't know it was Roger's). Still, it was very hard for me to distinguish between Roger's solo work and more obscure Supertramp tracks, let alone being able to name them! So bear with me, please.
Under loud cheering Roger came on stage at about half past nine, starting with a track from his new album Open The Door if I'm not mistaken. This was followed by Even in the quietest moments. Something that became immediately clear was the crystal clear sound! I have never been to a gig where the sound quality was better. And there were other fields in which this gig surpassed any I had previously attended, but more on that later.
I didn't mention yet that this was literally a Roger Hodgson solo gig: he had no backing band with him. He did it all himself, apart from two occasions. The first time was when the producer of his latest album joined him on stage to play mouthorgan on Take the long way home. The second time was when Roger introduced the strange device I mentioned earlier. It appeared to be an instrument called a Japanese wave drum, and after producing two drum sticks, Roger went on giving us a demonstration of its powers. It's difficult to describe, but think of an electronic drum with a pitch. It can be played like a normal electronic drum, but Roger also produced some really weird sounds with it by banging it with one stick and poking the other stick into it to control the pitch. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with such a device!
After the 'drum solo', Roger asked if there were any drummers in the audience. Several people put their hands in the air, and Roger invited one of them on stage. He then asked this guy to play drums on the next song! He did, and did a good job, too. Very brave!
Audience participation was on a high this evening, and Roger looked like he was enjoying himself a lot. Like any self-respecting Brit, he has a great sense of humour, and he joked a lot with the audience. The audience consisted, not surprisingly, mainly of people in their thirties and forties, i.e. those who knew Supertramp from their youth. There were even some small children, riding along on their parent's shoulders! At one point Roger relieved one of those parents by taking the child on stage and placing him in the armchair for a couple of tracks!
The balance in the setlist between Supertramp tracks and Roger's solo tracks was virtually even. Of the Supertramp tracks, almost all crowd favourites were played (among these Breakfast In America, Dreamer, It's Raining Again, Don't Leave Me Now, School, The Logical Song, Give A Little Bit and Fool's Overture). Indeed, from the album Even in the Quietest Moments, all tracks with Roger on lead vocals were played, including Babaji, which was clearly another favourite of the crowd, as it was clamoured for a lot. Two guys who were standing in front of me had umbrellas with them, and I was just about to tell them that it would have been far easier to have left them in the cloakroom, when Roger started playing It's Raining Again, and the umbrellas were unfolded and held in the air! Very funny!
Of course several tracks from the new album were played and overall these impressed me very much. Most notable were the powerful title track and the heartrending Death and a Zoo, which track brings me to another point: Roger's voice. Does this guy follow the same therapy as Jon Anderson? Crystal clear doesn't begin to describe it. The truth is, he sounds just like he did 25 years ago. It's simply amazing: his voice hasn't lost any of its power during that long time.
During the last part of the show there was time for requests, and some more Supertramp classics were played. After one hour and a half into the show, Roger started wearying noticeably, and he announced he had to wrap things up after the last song (which was not Don't leave me now!). Of course, that wasn't all and he came back for two encores, Give a Little Bit, and one of my personal favourites, Fool's Overture, ended the show.
I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this gig. Roger Hodgson is a great performer, very proficient on piano and guitar, and a exceptional singer. But he also has that rare talent to completely captivate an audience, to make a gig not an event with two separate parties, the audience and the performer, but to make it into a whole, to remove the barrier between artist and public, that is often so apparent during other concerts.