Have you seen the annoying TV commercial where that hideously peppy girl checks her cell phone and sees that her very first paycheck has cleared? If I've ever pitied a fictional character, it's that poor boyfriend of hers as she snaps his neck in her heedlessly peppy embrace.
Roger Hodgson's new (and first) concert DVD puts me in mind of that commercial. Not because his songs are unusually happy-sounding, although many of them are, especially some of the hits he wrote with Supertramp. No, it's because the band's Breakfast in America was the first album I ever bought with money I'd earned, as opposed to gift or allowance money. That's not something a guy forgets, even if it doesn't make him kick his legs and leap into the air like Mary Tyler Moore on PCP.
For those of you only casually familiar with Supertramp, Roger Hodgson was the one with the really high voice. He wrote and sang the majority of the band's hits as they sold 60 million records worldwide. (For those of you not familiar with Supertramp at all, you can stop reading right here – this DVD will not interest you, and your life has little meaning anyway.)
Many of those hits are included on this set, recorded at a recent Montreal concert with a smiling Hodgson presiding like a beneficent god of peace over an audience of awed middle-agers. (To be fair, some of them have brought their kids, who seem to be enjoying the music too.) Playing keyboards and twelve-string guitar, accompanied only by a sax player (and possibly with the subtle assistance of a Mac laptop, but it's hard to tell), he comes pretty close to evoking not just the emotional energy but also the spectacular arrangements that made Supertramp one of the biggest bands of the late 1970s.
An Amazon.com reviewer called this a "feel-good" concert in the way certain movies are "feel-good" movies, and I'd have to agree. An artist at the top of his game, an adoring audience, and excellent video and sound editing add up to a concert DVD that should please even picky Supertramp (and Hodgson) fans. Hodgson's unmistakable voice seems, if anything, to have strengthened since the early days, without losing any of its stratospheric range.
The concert includes most of the best-known songs associated with Supertramp's glory days: "Take the Long Way Home," "Sister Moonshine," "Dreamer," "Two of Us," and "Give a Little Bit." (Which you youngsters may know from a Gap commercial of a few years ago, or the Red Cross tsuanami relief campaign, or maybe the Goo Goo Dolls cover. And here's Hodgson doing it with Ringo's All-Stars in 2000. The list goes on.) Don't worry, he doesn't leave out "Breakfast in America" and "The Logical Song."
Hodgson also does several songs from his solo efforts, including "Lovers in the Wind" and "Love is a Thousand Times." Yes, there's a lot of love in these songs, and a whole carnival of it in the concert hall. Man, do they love him in Canada!
Fans will probably think of a song or two they wish he'd done. He doesn't do two of my favorites, "Lady" and "Babaji." But this is a concert DVD, not a greatest hits collection (or a "Sobel's favorites" collection, for that matter).
There are a few short clips from a different concert in an entirely different format: with a full orchestra and full band. Bits from "Even in the Quietest Moments" and "Fool's Overture" are notable. Many dinosaur rock acts have tried out the orchestral thing, from the Moody Blues to Metallica, with varying success. Supertramp's music was pretty heavily – and very carefully – orchestrated, so these pieces work well and one wishes they were complete songs.
The extras also include some fan interview footage and a little more soundcheck and backstage action than necessary. The latter show Hodgson to be an exacting musical director, but generous and appreciative when greeting fans and friends. More interesting are the two short interviews, where he discusses his creative process, how he "was always a solo artist within a band," the sound of the twelve-string guitar, and a little about his charity work. The details about how and when he wrote some of the biggest hits will interest fans. "My songs are as alive for me today as the day I wrote them," he says. That's got to be a key attribute for any popular artist who wants to maintain a career over decades, and you can tell from the performances here that he means it when he says it.
Technically, the concert is smoothly recorded and edited, the sound is high quality, and the authoring is fine. Having already gone double platinum in Canada, this DVD should please American fans just as much. Total running time: 140 minutes. Audio options: Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS Surround Sound.