The first time I ever laid eyes on Will Hoge, I referred to it as an epiphany. Little did I know he was just cracking the surface of my musical consciousness? It’s rare and wondrous to find an artist who consistently exceeds your expectations who can also transmute divine inner light with each performance. When one see’s Will Hoge live, it’s impossible to forget his pensive performances. They become tattooed in your brain forever. One may marvel as to why I am giving this guy more space, but the truth is each and every time I see him, his romanticism of rock n’ roll and defying performances continues to win me over. There is no other act on the road who completely absorbs me as Hoge (although Butch Walker is a close second). There is something spiritual, genuine and sincere in each and everything he does when he hits the concert stage. There are no fancy outfits, no gimmicks, and no attitude…just a yearning to give the crowd an unforgettable experience.
This past year alone, I caught shows in Champaign, Milwaukee and Chicago (two times). It was as if the shows were merely building on one another before the triumphant knock out he and his band delivered in Chicago last March and once again this past summer at the House of Blues. These shows showcased a band who has become sophisticated with their arrangements while simultaneously remaining brazenly wild and innocent. Never once do these guys appear to be content with their performance and somehow they manage to improve upon each show. On back to back nights, I saw different arrangements of the same song; “Pocket Full of Change” found the band instinctively morphing basic arrangements into extended jams that took the audience to ebullient heights. “July Moon” effortlessly segued into “L.A. Woman” and “Rock N’ Roll Star” was combative with its passionate delivery.
Will is a venerable musician whose visceral power is enough to convince anyone, yet he manages to up the ante with each performance no matter how many people are in the crowd. Whether it’s a few dozen loyal fans or a sold out House of Blues, the crowd eventually throws adulation upon him. At his most recent Chicago stop, he continues to reinvent the material from his sophomore disc, ‘Blackbird On A Lonely Wire’. “King of Grey” has evolved and becomes a better song every few months with each new arrangement. “Secondhand Heart” and “All Night Long” power over the audience with breathtaking abandon with a swaggering back beat and clashing guitars that echoes the thunderous performances of the Who and Bruce Springsteen of decades ago.
Despite the spiritual and soulful aspects of Hoge’s roof raising performances, it’s the quieter moments that tend to lodge themselves in my brain. “Bible vs. Gun” may be his greatest achievement as a songwriter and each time I witness this live, I’m taken aback by his haunting approach. He finds a way to put himself in the shoes of the characters he writers about and watching him with eyes shut and emotions curving through expressions on his face, I sit there and wonder, “Can anybody really be this good?”. I mean it when I say this. If you’re reading this and have never seen Will Hoge live, make sure you do, because a talent like this won’t stay hidden forever. There were thirty-months in between the first time I saw him live and this most recent, and impossibly each show finds Hoge and his band of warriors refining their craft into relenting performances that channels copious influences into moments that won’t just impact you but will leave you with an intoxicating experience.
The most recent House of Blues gig showcased two songs from the then unreleased Draw The Curtains. The poppy rocker “These Were The Days” brought the crowds arms to the air while “Silver and Gold” was sweet and sheepish. It was my first time seeing both numbers and what stood out to me was Hoge’s soulful voice is accentuated by his narrowing eyes while the eyes of the audience continues to widen as they see a true artist in front of them.
Hoge’s band continues to hone their craft and it’s truly awe inspiring seeing a band so in command of their instruments and material. One of the highlights of the shows in 2007 is the song “Sunshine Burn”, which is one of the first songs Will ever wrote with his band Spoonful. It was recently released on the new live album, Again Somewhere Tomorrow. It’s a sweet moving melodic gem full of emotional romanticism where the lyrics take truly take you to another place.
There are times when Hoge and his band will turn on a dime and before you know it they are segueing into another song not on the set list. These off-road stops never cease to marvel me and the bands instinctive drive is something not often found. I’m going to go on record that Hoge’s current touring band is one of the five best on the road at this moment and time.
One thing that has not left my mind was the performance at the Double Door last March. On this particular night, the band was in the zone which was evident on what was supposed to be the evening’s second to last performance, “Hearts Are Gonna Roll”. As Will chopped away at his guitar the crowd became more and more enraptured with the performance until Will whipped the guitar into the air before elevating the song, band and crowd to a stratosphere I didn’t think was possible. The song kicked into a frenzied speed as Will was up on stage clapping his hands like a preacher and the entire club followed him for the combative finish.
As I waited back at the merchandise booth for Will to come out post-show, one fan was buying his most recent release, Again Somewhere Tomorrow and as he handed the merchandise girl his money he said “If Pete Townshend were to ask me for a definition of rock n’ roll I would tell him to see this guy (as he pointed to Will’s name on the cd).” I just sat back and had a giddy smile on my face, because not only did someone else get it, but it justified everything I feel and believe about this artist. Ironically, no sooner did this fan utter those words, but the band came back to the stage, ten minutes after leaving, for an extended encore of three other songs (including the angelic “Sunshine Burn” and the provocative “Southern Belle”).
Even after an exuberant 120-minute set, the band would not relent and left the audience with an impression they won’t soon forget. Each performance aches with vulnerability and yet from deep within the band finds the power to unleash their rebellious and passionate music. The band threw themselves into the Chicago with the stuff that makes legends. It reminds me of the days where people tell me Springsteen played an eight hour show and then swept up the floor afterwards. Tall tales often make rock legends, but in Hoge’s case, the tales aren’t tall and I’ve seen them enough to tell you they aren’t the stuff of legend, they really happen.
So when I think back to that performance of “Bible vs. Gun”, where I questioned if it was human for anyone to really be this good? I guess I know the answer to my question and that is why I’ll be following Will Hoge for decades to come. You should hop on the train as well.
This article has also been published on the antiMusic Network.
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