April 14, 2009
Photos Courtesy of Will Byington (Contact him at this link)
By Anthony Kuzminski
(Read all related Will Hoge articles at this link)
Life and death; two extremes we try and balance on the wire of our existence. One we try and run from and the other we often fail to embrace. However, when worlds collide, it makes you take stock of both. On August 20th, 2008 Will Hoge was home in Nashville, Tennessee laying down tracks for his next studio disc. Upon the completion of a god day at the studio, he headed home on his scooter. He traveled north on Main Street in East Nashville and a short while later, Hoge awoke in the street, covered in blood and extreme pain without a recollection of what had occurred. Hoge’s scooter collided with another vehicle which found Hoge with limited vision, numerous broken bones and over one-hundred stitches in his face and that was just the start of it all. Events like this tend to put things into perspective. Far too many artists are lost to freak accidents and I’m happy to report that Hoge has recovered. Up until a few days before the show, barely had touched an instrument for eight months and the band had not done this type of a gig in quite sometime. For a traveling musician, eight months off the road is the equivalent of eight years to a band like the Rolling Stones. It’s an eternity. All of this makes the Chicago performance that much more of a miracle. Based on what I witnessed at Schuba’s night club in Chicago, the accident and the time off hasn’t taken any of his vitality away from him, in fact, he appeared more determined and confident than I could have ever imagined.
Will Hoge has worked hard performing over two-hundred shows a year and has won his fans over one-by-one and now plays to crowds larger than many acts with radio airplay; however for his return tour, he is booking smaller and more intimate venues like Schuba’s in Chicago where he made his first stage appearance in eight-months. Hoge took to the stage clean shaven, in a jacket, jeans and shirt ready to rock despite having the show be a sit down unplugged affair. A breathy atmosphere overtook the room as Hoge and his four-piece band tore through their acoustic set with the same intensity that their plugged in live shows have despite everyone being in their seats. Opening with five consecutive songs from his first two discs, Hoge reached back for some of his best known numbers; “Secondhand Heart”, “Rock N’ Roll Star”, “Your Fool”, “Somebody Else’s Baby” and “Better Off Now”, all of which were greeted with zealous enthusiasm from the crowd. I’d be lying to you if I told you that this was a perfectly performed set, but then again, should perfection and rock n’ roll go hand in hand? I say “no”. Hoge even acknowledged this when a mandolin came out and Hoge himself put on a harmonica around his neck on “Better Off Now” which he introduced as “time to make some new mistakes on new instruments”. Despite this, there were no erroneous errors or mishaps especially impressive considering it was Devin Malone’s first show (Hoge’s new guitarist). The set was constructed with a more intimate and personal setting in mind. Some of these songs have rarely been performed live including the longing “Draw the Curtains” and “The Highway’s Home” both of which were surrounded by a lingering and forlorn mood. “Hey Tonight” was another reworked revelation from his Atlantic record Blackbird on a Lonely Wire. He has reworked these songs so often that I’m surprised he doesn’t re-record them fully or release a double live release with one disc being live and another acoustic. “Sex, Lies and Money” has a “Boogie Chillin’” beat while “Let Me Be Lonely”, “She Don’t Care” and “These Were The Days” were rollicking and roared off the stage even with the band in their seats. I was expecting the band to take it easy so Hoge could ease his way back into touring, but no such thing happened. I’ve seen bands on the final night of their tour who didn’t sound a tenth as good as these guys did.
“Carousel” was a heart-stopping rendition that left the crowd’s mouths agape in silence. This was the same song that left me breathless on my initial experience back in 2005. The mandolin proved to be evocative and Hoge’s soulful lyrics downright invigorating. “Dirty Little War” found emotions laid out for all to not just hear but to see bleed through the face. Some artists write songs to have hits, others write to work through their personal demons. Hoge’s vocal intensity on this number was nothing short of staggering, you didn’t just see it or even feel it but you completely empathized with him through his impassioned performance.
The encore included the invigorating road anthem “Pocket Full of Change” (which included a hysterical story of former band members and a piano solo by Hoge) and the sweet and melancholy ballad “Baby Girl” which numerous female fans in the crowd requested. However, it was the solo performance of “When I Can Afford To Lose” that was the evening’s luminous moment. Hoge sat behind a piano and strapped on a harmonica and proceeded to lay his life on the line in a performance that was downright harrowing. If this song does not come from a first person perspective, then he is pulling every line of this song from somewhere deep within him. His vocal intensity speaks volumes and is enough for a lost soul to wrap their heart around and find their way through a dark period. Ever since Hoge appeared in front of me opening for another artist four years ago, his music has invigorated my life; it makes me feel alive and I find myself weaving my life story through his songs and as a result, I feel heavily invested in his career. The best artists on the planet instill their art into our lives; it comforts, reminds, haunts and gives us the will to live. Hoge’s near death experience is something one could write about in depth for a few thousand words, but when you have a musician as talented as Hoge, you realize the music is really all that matters and nothing I write about his journey will ever be as reviving as his music. To return to your craft and deliver a performance that is as emotionally gut wrenching as this one is why I love music; it’s why I want to write about it and it reminds us that despite the heartache we experience, life is not just worth living, it’s a blessing to us all something Hoge reminds us of every time he straps on a guitar and steps up to a microphone.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMusic Network and his daily writings can be read at The Screen Door and can be contacted at thescreendoor AT gmail DOT com.