Two things were apparent very quickly Thursday night when Roger Hodgson appeared at Ravinia in Highland Park for his first show in the Chicago area in more than 30 years: He was genuinely having fun, and his voice is as strong as ever.
After completing his first song, a man was heard to say to his companion: "Roger sure hasn’t lost his pipes.” At age 62, Roger’s hair is longer than it was 30 years ago (grayer, too), and his voice seems to defy Father Time with its strength, sharpness and tone.
"Sometimes it surprises me, too,” he said after the show.
However, even before his pipes were booming throughout Ravinia – a top-notch outdoor venue that was filled with baby boomers, some of their parents and some of their kids – Roger’s smile indicated that everyone was in for a night of fun. Sure, there were a few appreciative smiles throughout the show, but when Roger took the stage to a standing ovation, his smile said more about his passion to perform than a casual thank you.
Then he told the crowd to leave their troubles outside for the next two hours and have fun.
It seemed as if everyone was listening intently as one of the co-founders of the progressive rock band Supertramp and his modern band of tramps hit the stage at 8 p.m. sharp, and he immediately he belted out, "Take the Long Way Home,” the opening song for most of his tour this year. It’s quite appropriate, too, as longtime fans and more casual fans can connect with one of the hits from the album "Breakfast in America,” which in 1979 reached No. 1 on the charts in the United States and won two Grammy Awards in 1980.
He followed that with "School”, the Supertramp anthem from the "Crime of the Century” album that marked the start of the group’s rise from a routine band to a classic band. The only disappointment was the lack of the inviting harmonica solo that hauntingly opens the song, but that was quickly forgotten.
Then, Roger dipped into his repertoire of songs from his first solo album, "In the Eye of the Storm.” He flawlessly delivered "In Jeopardy” and "Lovers in the Wind,” before going back to the "Crime of the Century” album with the popular but sometimes overlooked "Hide in Your Shell.” Roger spoke of this song being requested because it had helped many people get through tough times, and he said it had done the same for him.
Roger dedicated the next song, "Sister Moonshine,” to a 12-year-old girl in the audience who was celebrating her birthday. The song is off the album "Crisis? What Crisis.” It was released in 1975, 25 years prior to the birth of the young girl. His music can still reach the youth of today.
That set the stage for "Breakfast in America,” the title track from the album of the same name. He followed with "Lady,” "C’est le Bon” and "A Soapbox Opera,” all superb songs that are favorites of the hardcore fans but not as recognizable to casual fans.
Then Roger said something like, "I think you’ll remember this next song,” and he belted out "The Logical Song,” one of the top singles from "Breakfast in America.” It energized the crowd and set the stage for an introduction to a song that, while very popular among Roger’s hardcore fans also is relatively unknown to his casual fans. He caught their attention with this introduction about the song: "If you were a captive animal in a zoo, would you prefer to live without your freedom, or would you choose death?”
That is the message in "Death and a Zoo,” which mixes various animal sounds into the song and probably sent more than a few fans in search of "Open the Door,” Roger’s solo CD that debuted in 2000 and includes "Death and a Zoo.”
Roger, still smiling as if it was his first live performance, followed with "If Everyone Was Listening,” the touching "Lord Is It Mine” and then the upbeat "Child of Vision,” which had the crowd itching for more. "Know Who You Are” and "Don’t Leave Me Now” followed, and Roger introduced his next song explaining that it actually was the result of three pieces of music.
It was obvious that "Fool’s Overture” was next, and the lengthy and emotional song that includes parts of Winston Churchill’s famous "we shall never surrender” speech in 1940. It was a classic performance. It also set the stage for an unforgettable final three songs of the night.
The Minstrel invited the fans to come to the front ("Security, it’s OK,” he said) to sing and dance, and many did not need to be asked twice. The upbeat "Dreamer,” a single from "Crime of the Century,” had much of the crowd singing along with the fans near the stage who were singing and dancing.
Roger and his band then left for a few minutes before returning for two encores: First, the easily recognizable and popular "Give A Little Bit” and finally the get-on-your-feet-and-dance "It’s Raining Again.” Nobody who came to the stage prior to "Dreamer” had retreated to their seat, and the crowd was in a frenzy as the concert came to a close.
That’s how it’s supposed to be done, and Roger was masterful in doing it.
The concert featured an incredible 21 songs in a full two-hour performance, as promised in his opening remarks. In addition to his lead vocals on every song, Roger performed on the keyboards, grand piano and guitar.
He was accompanied by an excellent group of performers: Aaron MacDonald on the saxophone, harmonica, keyboards and backing vocals; Kevin Adamson on the keyboards and backing vocals; David J. Carpenter on the bass and backing vocals; and Bryan Head on drums and percussion.
MacDonald, in particular, was incredible. The saxophone is such an important part of many of Roger’s songs, and John Anthony Helliwell seemed unchallenged on the horns when Roger was with Supertramp. However, MacDonald’s talent, energy and on-stage persona met the standards set by Helliwell, and with each saxophone solo, it seemed that Roger’s connection to Supertramp is indeed alive and doing very well.
It sounded just like a Supertramp concert despite the absence of the other original band members.
Some longtime Supertramp fans hold out hope for the reunion of Roger and his Supertramp co-founder Rick Davies, and that’s understandable. Rick has many fine songs that Supertramp fans would love to hear: "Goodbye Stranger” and "Bloody Well Right” to name a few. But on his "Breakfast in America” tour this year, Roger is showing that he’s doing quite well on his own, and he relies entirely on his songs.
Roger gave his fans two full hours of his best music. If this had been a Supertramp concert with Rick, many of Roger’s songs would not have been heard to make room for some of Rick’s.
Sure, it would be nice to see a Roger and Rick reunion, but it sounds like it’s not going to happen. And it doesn’t need to. That’s because Roger and his new-age band of tramps are, well, simply super.