Judge Bill Gibron suggests you "give a little bit of your time" to this excellent concert DVD from the former front man and hit-maker for '70s superstars Supertramp.
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He remains the most recognizable voice of pop-song savants Supertramp, as '70s a band as there ever was. From their confusing prog-rock beginnings to the moment tunes like "Bloody Well Right" became airplane "radio" favorites fodder, the British band was noted for their novel instrumentation (mostly keyboard in a guitar oriented arena) and sly sense of humor. But it was the high-pitched pleadings of main contributor Roger Hodgson that sent the act into the stratosphere. With choice chart toppers like "Dreamer," "Give a Little Bit," "Even in the Quietest Moments," "Take the Long Way Home," and "The Logical Song," his twee elfin looks and instantly memorable hooks made young girls weep and adolescent males smile. Yet after the Famous Last Words album (and the marginal smash It's Raining Again), Hodgson left Supertramp to forge his own artistic identity. In the nearly three decades that have past since the rather acrimonious split, talk of a reunion—even the cynical, cash grab-oriented type of reformation—has been systematically squashed. Apparently, whatever the group thought it could accomplish sans Hodgson (they have gone on to record a few more albums, mostly to fan indifference) remains solidly in place to this day. Luckily, our Tolkien-esque tunesmith continues to tour and record. Captured as part of a solo jaunt in 2006, Roger Hodgson: Take the Long Way Home—Live in Montreal stands as a wonderful testament to Hodgson's talent and enduring cultural impact.
You have to give the man, and the musician, credit. It takes melodic cajones the size of Breakfast in America's royalty checks to take the stage sans band, just yourself, an acoustic guitar, a electronic keyboard, and a backup saxophonist. Fans familiar with the intricate arrangements and sonic depth of Supertramp's sound will wonder how a one man set-up replicates same. The answer is…rather well, thank you very much. Hodgson's music is more about the songwriting craft than the byplay between bass and drum, and with such amazing tunes at his disposal, it's hard to hate a moment of this intimate performance. For the record, here is the set list performed during the show's nearly 90-minute running time:
• "Take the Long Way Home"—from the 1979
Supertramp album Breakfast in America
The reliance on material from his Supertramp days, considering the rather closed-mouthed approach Hodgson has taken towards his former bandmates, is not really all that unusual. While it would have been interesting to see the man, refreshed and redefined for the new millennium, dragging out a war chest of unreleased material, no one but longtime supporters would have cottoned to such a concert. While playing yet another new tune, the shouts for "Logical" and "Dreamer" would have been deafening. Let's face it—we're nostalgia nuts, and when faced with someone who created the soundtrack for our past, we're like Homer Simpson revisiting Bachman-Turner Overdrive: "No Talking. No New Crap. 'Taking Care of Business.' Now." Hodgson is more than willing to comply, and this makes for a nice amount of give and take between himself and the audience. Besides, he can play the spit out of these songs, recreating the same feeling and sentiment of the originals all by himself. In fact, songs like the aforementioned 1974 smash and the moving "Give a Little Bit" come off seemingly complete here. This is one artisan who doesn't need fancy bells and whistles to relive his glory days. His musicianship more than makes up for any instrumental lag.
As do the tunes themselves. Stripped of their novelty and place within the context of pop culture, it is clear that Hodgson's recent ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) award was well-deserved. Even older, obscure numbers like "Easy Does It" and "School" shine in this more intimate, simplistic setting. Amazingly enough, Hodgson's voice is almost exactly the same as it was three decades ago. He can handle the high notes with relative ease, and each performance seems polished and perfected. There is never a loose or off-the-cuff feeling throughout the entire recital. Those familiar with his catalog, who understand the vast wealth of untouched and untapped material that could have been used in this showcase may be disappointed at the hit-heavy mandate. But for pure aural bliss, for someone whose avoided bad band vibes, fiscally formed comebacks, and fame-whoring notoriety (some acts, like a Dennis De Young-less Styx or Steve Perry-less Journey, just don't know when to quit), Roger Hodgson deserves mountains of praise. Take the Long Way Home—Live in Montreal is an indelible achievement, both personally and professionally. It should not be missed.
As they do with most of their music-based releases, Eagle Vision does a delightful job in fleshing of this title's technical specs. From the visual side of things, we get a 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen image that avoids many of the videotape trappings—bleeding and flaring—that can ruin such a presentation. Instead, we get excellent colors and a nice level of detail. Of course, what we really care about is sound reproduction, and, in that regard, Roger Hodgson: Take the Long Way Home—Live in Montreal does not disappoint. We get three different aural offerings—Dolby Digital DTS (amazing), Dolby Digital 5.1 (excellent) and Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (acceptable). What's most impressive about the sound here is the sense of space, especially in the multichannel choices. In the middle of an immersive experience, you can actually gauge the implied distance between Hodgson and his audience. Finally, the bonus features here are equally intriguing. They offer a wonderful Q&A with the man, a look at the sound check and some fan appreciations, a backstage pass, and your standard photo gallery. There is also a look at Roger's repertoire, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a few bonus tracks including a definitive take on "Even in the Quietest Moments," and a glimpse of orchestrated versions of "The Logical Song" and "Fool's Overture." They are sensational supplements overall.
Still, for us diehards, a few bars of "Lord Is It Mine," "Babaji," or something from the experimental Hai Hai would have been wonderful. Perhaps, next time around. Indeed, with what he achieves here, and the accomplishments he's merited in the past, a 58-year-old Hodgson will have a lot of significant staying power. Take the Long Way Home—Live in Montreal is continuing proof of his professional and artistic acumen.
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