We were in a small, intimate concert venue in Milwaukee called Shank Hall that had a capacity of about 300 but was barely half full, being treated to some good ol’ southern rock by The Bottle Rockets, a group well past their prime that I knew and had actually purchased one of their CDs in the mid-90s.
Adam hadn't heard of them before and didn't know what to expect. I'd listened to their disc, The Brooklyn Side, plenty of times and hoped that they still had it in 'em to sound the way they did a decade and a half ago. And they did.
Three guitars, one drummer. Rock. And. Roll. Hard-driven rhythms and smart lyrics. They didn’t do anything flashy up on the tiny stage, and their drummer looked more apt to be a middle school science teacher than the pulse of a rock band (bottom left in the photo), but he could keep a beat, and the other guys in the band knew their way around their six-strings and mics, too.
They were playing for the love of being musicians, and, I suspect, because they had bills to pay. The tour bus parked outside was their only mode of transportation. There was no limousine ready to whisk them away to a private jet after the show.
The lead singer served as his own roadie, plugging in cords, testing foot pedals and bringing out his own guitars.
And I bet the last time they played a 10,000-seat arena was right around the same time I bought that CD. And the arena just might have been half empty.
But you can’t deny an hour and a half of good music when you hear it. That’s what we heard, and I was more than a little thrilled to be able to add them to my list of concert “have-seens”.
In between songs, they’d hawk their CDs and T-shirts and direct members of the audience over to the merchandise table “so we can keep playing small shows like this and keep our crowd sizes down, and don’t have to go back to playing big stadiums.”
Uh-huh. Right. I heard the sarcasm dripping off the mic as he said that. More like, “Please buy our stuff because there are only 200 people here tonight, and sales of that merch helps us afford to keep on rockin’.” I bought a live disc.
That concluded the first half of the night. What was to come was the real reason Adam wanted to attend, and I'd listened to this new guy's CD a time or two, as well, and was interested to see him live.
If The Bottle Rockets show was a glimpse of a hard-rockin’ band on the downside of its career, then the headliner was a complete one-eighty, a singer/songwriter trying to establish himself and catch a lucky break on his way to fame and fortune.
And from what we heard out of him and his band, he’ll get that break sooner or later, and quite a few more people will have heard of Will Hoge (rhymes with “rogue”). My goal going in was to find out how he pronounced his last name, whether it was Will "Hogue" or Will "Hodge" or...whatever. So after his opening song when he stepped up to the mic and said, "Good evening, everyone, my name is Will "Hogue,"...I turned to Adam and said, "Well, that's good enough for me. I'm outta here." But of course...I stayed. And was handsomely rewarded with one of the greatest shows I've seen in quite some time. And I've seen my share.
Adam was more familiar with this guy than I was, finding his music online and reading a few reviews that said he puts on a pretty good live show. The phrase “pretty good” does not do justice to what we saw and heard. “Blown away” might be more accurate, or possibly “jaw-dropped awe.”
He had kind of an Edwin McCain sound and style to him, but perhaps even better.
Anybody in that room that night who wasn’t a fan when they walked in…had to be a fan when they walked out. Hoge and his bandmates gave it their all, and then about 20 percent more. Rock-and-rollers doing what they so apparently love to do. Rockin’. And rollin’.
Midway through the show, Adam went over and bought Hoge's new disc, and then after it was over and the lights were turned up, Will came over to the merchandise table to pose for pictures with his groupies and sign autographs. We hung around the bar area until the line of google-eyed girls dwindled to nearly nothing, and then got to shake hands with the future rock superstar and got an autograph for Adam's CD.
Earlier (much earlier) in the evening, Adam mentioned that if he was able to get an autograph, he had a profound thought about life that he wanted Will to write when he signed his name. But as we were chatting with him for a while, it became clear to Will that he knew what to write, and the CD came back: "Adam is NOT drunk!" followed by a squiggle/scribble thingie that was his autograph, I suppose.
Very astute observer, that Will Hoge. I might have to take a bit of the blame for that one, though, because I was probably the pace-setter early in the evening.
After Will went back to schmoozing with some of his other fans, we were graced with the presence of Erica, the band's promotional spokesperson/publicist/merchandise overseer/all-around hottie. While Adam pulled out the plastic to buy a couple more Hoge discs, she giggled at our levels of inebriation, regaled us with a few tales of life on the road with seven guys, and informed us that the very next night they were performing again in Chicago, a mere hour(ish) drive away.
While we strongly considered going the two-shows-in-two-nights route, in the end it didn't happen. But if you ever have the chance, I urge to you run…not walk…to see a live Will Hoge show. Simply one of the best sixteen-dollar adrenaline rushes you'll ever find.
Yeah, I can say it was a pretty good Friday night.
"Rock and roll: Music for
the neck downwards."