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UnRated Magazine Review: Park West - Chicago, IL - Saturday, October 29, 2005
Band Concert Review
Will Hoge: The Magic Man

Will Hoge: The Magic Man

Park West - Chicago, IL - Saturday, October 29, 2005

By Anthony Kuzminski

I got a suitcase full of empty dreams
A guitar with broken strings
A busted heart that longs to sing the blues
-“Highway’s Home”

Great shows begin and end with a bang. They capture the hearts and minds of the audience and never let go even after the music has faded into the night. During the encore of Will Hoge’s recent appearance at the Park West in Chicago, he played one lone number, “She Don’t Care About Me”. On paper this may appear to be an ordinary ending to an extraordinary evening. Sure, the encore was one song; however, it was a ten-minutes plus jam in which Will Hoge and his band took this simple rock number to mythic and grand proportions. In this extended jam, the band took a straightforward song and augmented it for a truly illustrious moment as “Midnight Rider” was incorporated throughout “She Don’t Care…” and even though the track lasted over ten-minutes, each and every member of the audience was spellbound by the remarkable performance and no one dared to head for the door. With the effortless wave of a hand, Will brought it all back home for a forceful finale while the audience watched closely just as children would watch a magician wave his wand waiting for their next trick. There was no fooling anyone in Chicago, what occurred was magical as the band impressed everyone. Bruce Springsteen once sang, “Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night…” and if your city is lucky enough to have Will Hoge pass thru, there will be more than magic, but power, perseverance and preservation of the thing I call rock n’ roll.

I had just completed an article on Will Hoge the week he came to Chicago for a headline gig at the Park West. I had two tickets reserved for me at will call, but I’ll admit, I was a bit nervous. I had seen Will open for Marc Broussard eight months earlier and the performance was riveting. However, how would he handle a headline slot? At 9:30pm on the head, Will and his band took the stage and plowed through “Secondhand Heart”, “Let Me Be Lonely” and “Doesn’t Have To Be This Way” in succession. The musicianship during these first three numbers was nothing short of spine-tingling and luminous. Each band member feeds off the other and the song arrangements have hurdled leaps and bounds since they were first recorded. Will Hoge may be a solo act taking his show on the road but the tightness and musicianship of this opening trio of tunes showcased that for Will Hoge, rock n’ roll is a band thing. Throughout the course of the evening, Will’s persistence and spirit rose above as the crowd, as they watched him surprise them song after song. New and old songs alike won the crowd over as the band tore through a set full of energy, emotion and soul. Will and the band rode through their set with confidence and determination usually the best headliners only have. Here is an act that one night is opening for ZZ Top and the next will be playing a festival and then headlining a club the next. They move from gig to gig like midnight riders delivering their brand of rock n’ roll with willpower and a vengeance no matter what the size of the venue or audience is.

As the evening progressed, Will lacerated the strings on his guitar as he whisked up the opening chords of “Better Off Now”. The break up rocker struck a chord with me as it was written from the heart and I could put myself into a time and place in my life where I felt just like the lyrics (“Ghosts of you would come back to me whenever I was alone”). “Ms. Williams” followed in a shotgun like fashion as the driving bass beat kicked in while voices from the crowd sung in unison. Illustrious artists should do more than just entertain, but they should inspire and strike chords within your heart. Early in his set Will grabbed mine, just like he had eight months earlier.

Being a road warrior, Will is not afraid to try out new material on a crowd. Tonight was no exception, he ran through a number of tunes which will be on his forthcoming album coming out in early 2006. “I Wanna Be Strong” was first up and the soul wrenching anthem is one Otis Redding would have loved. As I watched Will perform the song, his intensity could be seen as he did not open his eyes and yet you could feel the yearning and despair in his voice while at the same time feeling like it was your own experience he was singing about. “Highways Home” (dedicated to Hank Williams), “Pocket Full of Change” and “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” further demonstrated the band is no fluke and that their new material is potent and can potentially be truly tremendous in concert once fans become more familiar with it. The material ranged from rocking to soulful and if these songs are any indication, Will’s next album may be one of 2006’s best. Let me pause for a second and talk about the voice. Will has one of the most soulful and intense voices I’ve heard in years. It’s not so much the strength of the voice, but the resolve with which he uses it. It is an instrument and he uses it brilliantly on his soulful serenades.

The stage and club had no glitz, no glamour- just the pure essence of rock ‘n roll. No fancy posters or backing banners hung on stage, there was just a band who believes in their music and getting it out to as many people as possible. During the encore, Will was speaking to the crowd as he tuned his guitar and joked about how one day, maybe they’ll be big enough to pay someone to do it for them. I for one pray they hit the big time sooner than later because I can’t think of a single performer I’ve seen in the last few years that deserve it more. When seeing Will live it’s more than just a concert but a life transforming event. You always hear about seeing classic artists like U2, REM, Pearl Jam and Nirvana in small clubs like the Park West before they made it big. People speak of it in legendary terms that are almost mythic. I feel the same way about Will Hoge, each and every lyric sung, bass thumbed, cymbal crashed and guitar strummed I feel time slipping away from me to a time where Will Hoge will no longer be just “my” cult artist. He’s a determined and compelling live performer who has the material to back him up and I believe it’s just a matter of time before he’s no longer just my little secret. He’s not a pop star or even a rock star; he’s simply Will Hoge, a first rate musician who believes deeply in his mission of making music will bring about a relationship with his audience.

There is something about the connection between the listener and the artist, it’s an ongoing relationship. One wonders why I hate and despise one-hit wonders on the radio today and my answer is what would you rather have; a cheap fun one night stand or a ongoing nurturing relationship that will nourish you and help you continue to grow and evolve as a person? I'll take the later. Will is an artist with a mission, the type of artist who makes you feel connected to where you have been, where you are now and where you are going.

Will is an artist of conscience who makes a bond with his audience. Sure, he’s a rock n’ roller who leaves a pint of blood on the concert stage every night, but beneath the blood, sweat and tears is an artist of considerable significance. He’s no fly by night artist who will be here one moment and gone tomorrow. At the end of the day, it is the power of his prose that distinguishes him from others, as he is reaching deeper from within to tell stories. These are more than boy meets girl stories, but ones with a social impact. Look no further and “Washed By The Water”, a profoundly powerful anthem for those in need and those who need shelter from the storm. The song was written in the aftermath of Katrina’s devastating effects this past summer and Will posted a live MP3 of the song to his website shortly thereafter. This song for Will is the equivalent of “Blowin’ In The Wind” to Dylan, “Sunday Bloody Sunday” to U2, “Badlands” by Bruce Springsteen…these were all important songs, to the respective artists, where they made a decision to take their audience on a journey that involved alternate routes and crossroads. I am glad I caught the train early and can’t wait for further life lessons with Will Hoge. Desperate times call for great artists to heal…Will Hoge is one of these artists who touches our hearts, engages our minds and replenishes our souls. Now that’s magic.




RELATED LINKS:
Will Hoge
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