Merano is an immaculate village in a beautiful region of northern Italy which is very close to the Austrian border. The village is surrounded by rocky mountains, the Dolomites, which are some of the most beautiful mountains in the whole world. As people say, the character of its inhabitants reflects the landscape, and the local people come across as very polite and shy, if not very reserved. That may be true until you casually mention the name Roger Hodgson: all of a sudden the big mountains between them and you leave space for a beautiful sunny valley where these lovely people cannot run fast enough to embrace you and share with you what this artist and his music mean to them. All of a sudden you become someone "who knows" what they are feeling, someone "who understands" and they welcome you with open arms, sharing intimate stories of old trips to Munich to see Supertramp, stories of relationships that were born on that occasion, even old, white lies told to parents to be able to see the very man who composed the music that became the soundtrack of their youth. I walked around the village with a huge smile on my face and in my heart, knowing that those people were going to have the night of their life; I could feel the excitement brewing knowing that their dreams were going to come true in a few hours.
The Kursaal, a historical theatre embellished by beautiful musical scenes painted on the artistic ceilings, and looked after by the professional and joyful Theatre Director Andreas Cappello, was just the perfect setting.
The show had sold out and people, many of whom had come from all over Europe to see this unique artist, started to take their seats in an orderly manner, sharing smiles and musical stories while the atmosphere was getting more and more vibrant. At 9pm Roger Hodgson appeared on stage, jokingly introducing himself, delivering a short speech in both German and Italian, which the whole audience appreciated very much.
"Take the long way home", bringing the first goosebumps across the audience, started breaking the ice and immediately set the mood for the rest of the show. The beautiful "Sister moonshine" and the romantic "Lovers in the wind" followed, dedicated to all the lovers in the audience. Roger definitely broke the last of the ice by joking with the audience and sporting a "I Love Roger Hodgson" t-shirt which had made a cheeky appearance in the first row. "Breakfast in America", one of the best known songs of all times, was beautifully interpreted and earned a standing ovation.
It was obvious that Roger was in amazing form and his confidence and enjoyment were just there, for everybody to see and hear, and gave some hidden gems like "Rosie had everything planned", a "Soapbox opera" and "C'est le Bon" a very high score in the favourite list of many fans, me included!
"The logical song" closed the first part of the show, with the fantastic Aaron MacDonald impressing everybody with his multi-tasking, exceptional talent and powerful sax solo. Roger's voice didn't disappoint the die-hard Supertramp fans but exceeded expectations as he sailed through the acute notes of the song, which in normal circumstances would give any young confident singer in his prime some serious, behind-the-scene thinking to do!!
During the break I was approached by many fans who were really enthusiastic, some even had "heart-shaped" eyes as they could not believe their favourite musician was in Italy and there, right in front of them, playing and singing better than ever.
Some Supertramp fans revealed to me that they were a little skeptical before the show as they could not imagine how a two-man band could deliver such a high quality performance, but that from the very first note they felt this was the real thing and that Roger had definitely been the 'Super' part of Supertramp! Therefore they didn't hesitate to follow my recommendation to buy the "Live in Montreal" DVD to be able to continue enjoying the magical performance once they had returned home.
Back on stage after the break, Roger and Aaron delighted us with a stunning rendition of "Child of Vision", which saw the amazing Aaron "melt" the Steinway piano keys with a fabulous solo.
"Only because of you" and "Lord is it mine" prepared and tuned the strings of my heart for what was going to be my favourite song of the night: "Even in the quietest moments". Roger told the audience that he had composed this song one night as he was sitting in the countryside, looking at the sky, and that's what it felt like to be sitting a few feet from him while he performed this precious gem. I could not keep my tears from flowing, while the rational part of me wished I had previously bought shares in Kleenex!! It was such a beautiful and unexpected gift for me and for the vast majority of the people in the audience, who listened in emotional silence all the way through. But the surprises were not finished yet as "Say Goodbye" took centre stage, a wonderful song that nobody in the audience was expecting and that was a real privilege to be able to listen to live.
I cannot find any suitable words to describe "Don't leave me now", I always thought that drums would be necessary for this song, until tonight I realised that when the audience substituted the drums with their synchronised clapping this song became even more dramatic and more meaningful for all of us. On the other hand I can confidently describe the performance of "Dreamer" as a full injection of life: Roger and Aaron's connection got even better, you could truly see that their confidence and the joy of playing together, accompanied by an enthusiastic audience, reach a higher level.
The official Setlist closed with the stunning "Fool's Overture", which surely spread goosebumps all around the theatre thanks to a passionate and dramatic rendition.A standing ovation and the gift of a big bunch of red and white roses tried to express the audience's gratitude and deep love for this amazing Artist who is not afraid to give 101% to his audience every time. The applause didn't cease until Roger returned on stage to gift his fans three more pearls. The first one, "Two of us", was able to touch some new, hidden spots of my heart, spots I ignored the existence of until that very moment! Aaron's solo added a touch of mysticism and romanticism and had a few people reach for their tissues! Then our Minstrel invited the audience to stand up and get closer to him as he performed "Give a little bit" and "It's raining again". The previously composed, respectful, elegantly dressed and maybe a little serious looking audience finally let go of all inhibitions and joined in: everybody, big and small, no matter what generation they belonged to, joined in together in a beautiful dance and gave a little bit back to their Minstrel, saying goodbye with an overwhelming applause which accompanied both artists off the stage.
It was such a lovely night for everybody, Roger's magical presence on stage, together with the professionalism and excellent sense of humour of Aaron MacDonald, delivered a perfect mix of beautiful, immaculately performed, touching music and joking banter, which the audience appreciated very much.
I have seen many shows of many artists in my life, due to my profession I have been able to be part of quite a few as well, and have been very lucky to see a few of Roger Hodgson's live shows in the last couple of years: however I can honestly say that this was the most beautiful, touching and energetic concert I have ever seen in my entire life, and I am so grateful to him and to all the special people who incessantly worked behind the scene to make it possible.
It is no secret that Roger has a way with those who happen or choose to be around him, he is able to touch people's lives in a very special way, whether they are fans or simply people who happen to cross paths with him. His personality shines through his smile, his eyes, his voice, his art. Whether on or off stage he is very giving, and the audience feels all this positive energy and responds to it, trying to give as much love back as they can.
I wish everybody a chance to catch one of his "Breakfast in America" 2012 world tour shows, he sings better than ever, the whole experience is amazing and I can honestly say that my heart grows two sizes every time I am lucky to be a witness of how well he does on stage and how happy, grateful and affectionate his audience is whenever he is around.
Roger Hodgson, or "Mr Logical" as my young children lovingly call him, is the only artist I have ever known who can bring people of any age or nationality together in this way and who is able to create and consolidate new, strong friendships. With his Merano show our Minstrel has once more shown that when it's a matter of performing in front of an audience of dreamers he is truly able to do something out of this world.