If you’re a Will Hoge fan already, go ahead and skip to the next paragraph, but for those of you who haven’t heard of Hoge or don’t know the man’s story, let me preface this review with a tale of incredible courage and determination. In the middle of recording the follow up to his 2007 album, Draw the Curtains, Hoge got into an accident while leaving the studio on his motor scooter. It’s no surprise that the accident left the Nashville musician with serious injuries and long hours of therapy ahead of him. That accident was last August, just eight months prior to this show. Day-to-day tasks are small feats after only eight months but to be back on the road is a downright miracle.
Now that everyone is on the same page, Hoge’s performance this past Tuesday at Schubas Tavern here in Chicago was absolutely phenomenal, albeit a little hindered. As the songwriter made his way to the stage, harmonica in hand, the hitch in his giddy-up is obvious. But, he re-assured fans, “about three hours outside of Chicago at a truck stop was the first time I realized that I was going to make it through this thing okay.” A boisterous fan yelled out “Welcome back, Will” to which he responded with his impeccable smile, “thanks.” “Lookin’ good, Will,” another fan shouted. “It’s just the lights,” he retorted. Yep, still the same ol’ Will.
To say this tour is a little different than Hoge’s previous tours would be like saying Obama is a little different than Bush; it’s blatant. Hoge’s typical show is explosive and high energy like the atmosphere his live disc, Again Somewhere Tomorrow, captured (also check out “Woman Be Strong” live .) Several fans told me about his previous shows at Schubas or Empty Bottle where he would stand on top of the soundboard and serenade the crowd without a microphone. Rest assured, that Hoge is still there, he’s simply obscured by the pains of recovery and re-learning how to perform. Even so, the old Hoge made a brief appearance when he stood up to play us a piano solo to end all piano solos during “Pocket Full of Change” for the encore.
That said, I’m not taking anything away from the singer; in fact, I’m still amazed that he’s on tour right now! With Hoge tamed, the band was able to experiment and shine through more than usual (they also sat in chairs.) Bassist Adam Beard switched it up, playing trumpet on a few tracks, and guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Devin Malone swapped instruments (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, keys) after every song. During one of the songs, Hoge stoped playing and burst into laughter since all of a sudden he was the only one playing rhythm. “I don’t want to take anything away from him, this is his first show with us,” said Hoge which explained the stack of notes sitting next to Malone’s chair.
With Hoge and the gang confined to chairs for the night and a consequently altered playing style, some of my favorite barnstorming anthems were omitted from the set list (“Woman Be Strong” & “Bible vs. Gun”) but he still managed to throw in “Rock and Roll Star”. That just gives me all the more reason to catch him the next time around. It’s like Hoge said, “Chicago is one of those cities where if you can convince people to come out and see you once, they’ll come see you every time you come back.” I think I speak for all the Will Hoge fans when I say “thanks for your love of music and hitting the road again so soon.”
Set list from Schubas (4/14/09)
01. Secondhand Heart
02. Rock and Roll Star
03. Your Fool
04. Someone Else’s Baby
05. Better Off Now That You’re Gone
06. Sex, Lies and Money
07. Draw The Curtains
08. Highways Home
09. Hey Tonight
10. Let Me Be Lonely
11. She Don’t Care
13. These Were The Days
14. Dirty Little War
15. Afford To Lose
16. Baby Girl
17. Pocket Full of Change
To view more of Andy’s exciting photo set, click here.