Will Hoge - Justin Roberts
Schuba's - Chicago
August 19, 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2001, Volume 8, #10
Written by T.J. Simon
It must be tough for a largely unknown, unsigned rock musician to tour the country. The corporate radio machine, now controlled by a handful of mega-corporations, isn’t behind you. You are away from your hometown fan base, and every audience is full of strangers waiting to see if they just flushed eight bucks down the can. When you’re an unknown commodity, every crowd is from Missouri -- arms folded on their chests telling the band to "Show Me."
With only one studio album under his belt, Nashville’s Will Hoge and his band of rock troubadours took the challenge and ventured into the vast Midwest on August 19 for a show at Schubas Tavern, a cozy Chicago way station for rock and alt-country stars on their way to greatness. Hoge has developed quite a following in the Southeast based upon positive word-of-mouth, relentless touring, and his excellent debut Carousel. His throaty vocals and guitar-based rock ’n‘ roll sound are often compared to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Elvis Costello, but his voice is almost a dead-ringer for Thin Lizzie vocalist Phil Lynott.
For the sparse audience, the buzz was out that this was a performer destined for big things, and the excitement was palatable as the band took the stage. Hoge led the group on guitar and lead vocals supported by Brian Layson on lead guitar, Tres Sasser on bass, and Kirk Yoquelet on drums. Starting the show with Let Me Be Lonely from Carousel, the band blasted blazing guitars over pounding drums, taking the energy level (and volume) to a feverish pitch, where it remained for the duration of the performance. At times the sonic blast was a hindrance as the guitars tended to drown out Hoge’s vocals during the up-tempo numbers. This is a particular shame because Hoge’s lyrics are passionate and well written as evidenced by Your Fool and Ms. Williams.
Hoge has been tapped to open a series of shows for John Mellencamp and The Wallflowers this summer, and he just completed a leg of Rod Stewart’s tour as the support act. He won the bar crowd over with his humility and humor as he spoke between songs telling a particularly amusing story about playing for people on their way to bathrooms and concession stands at the large amphitheaters. He also spoke about the difficulty of being a rock ’n‘ roll act from Nashville as illustrated by a hapless reporter from the Chicago Sun Times who described Hoge as a "country crooner" in a recent article about the Mellencamp concert. Hoge used this story as a lead into a roof-raising rendition of his strongest rocking number She Don’t Care.
With just a handful of his own compositions to perform, Hoge treated the audience to covers of tunes by Tom Petty, Otis Redding, and Chuck Berry, allowing him to fill out this 90-minute show. He made these songs his own rather than merely going through the motions like a Karaoke or a pathetic wedding band. He also previewed some promising songs from his forthcoming major-label debut on Atlantic Records, including Someone Else’s Baby. After 18 songs of sweaty, butt-shaking rock ’n‘ roll, the audience filed out, clearly pleased with their new discovery and undoubtedly hyping Hoge to their friends, ensuring larger venues and higher ticket prices the next time around.
Justin Roberts opened the show with a quirky set of acoustic guitar-based pop tunes from his discs on Chicago’s Hear Diagonally label. Vocally, he had a likable style reminiscent of Freedy Johnston. He was faced with the unenviable task of being an unknown artist opening for an unknown artist at 8pm in a tavern accustomed to rocking into the morning hours. All things considered, he did a fine job with the highlight being his country-tinged holiday number The Twelve True Days of Christmas, which served as a welcome respite from the August heat.
Will Hoge's Carousel is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright © 2001 The Music Box