Concert Review: Will Hoge Brings His Influences to Indianapolis

Will Hoge began the final night of his 2009 tour by sitting in a chair at the front of the stage, playing acoustic guitar. By show’s end Saturday night at Radio Radio, he was in full Pete Townshend windmill, testifying frontman mode. He was sweating, screaming and generally doing what Will Hoge does in a live setting: channeling his inner Petty and Springsteen to create Memphis via Nashville soulful rock and roll. And damn, if he isn’t about the best at what he does.

Ambling on stage in a white dress shirt, back vest, and black tie with an unbuttoned collar, Hoge dotted his 2 hour, 10-minute, 28-song show with songs from his five studio albums, leaning most heavily on his first (“Carousel”) and his latest (“the Wreckage”). Opening with the title cut to the new record – it served as a metaphorical reminder of the nearly year-long battle Hoge fought to recover from a serious scooter accident in August 2008, suffered on his way home from a studio session during the recording of the album.

While the sold-out show (a sign was posted on the front door of Radio Radio just before 8:30pm) pushed showgoers together and created a palpable energy of expectation, Hoge’s initial two songs, played seated, had much of the audience struggling to see the singer and dive into the moment. His voice is gritty, blue-eyed soul when he slows his music down, and his plaintive, tough yet-sensitive lyrics shine.

But with “Highway Wings” from the new record, Hoge stood up, the audience energy came with it, and the rock and roll began. The three song-suite, featuring the ultra-hooky “Secondhand Heart” and the rocker “She Don’t Care”, played to Hoge’s strengths: Petty-esque, anthemic pop/rock, dirtied up with loud Fender Telecaster rhythm and a band that fits nicely and loudly into the mix.

The sound at Radio Radio is always some of the best for any venue in the city, and this night was no exception, treating the audience to clean, crisp instrument separation: just the right thump of Adam Beard’s bass and Sigurdur Birkis’s drums (and they may be the best rhythm section I have seen in 2009), with dueling, jagged guitars, and vocals that rode just atop the mix. Nearly perfect.

Hoge and his band built energy in five or six song bursts, starting with an acoustic song or two before heating up the room with the electric guitars. As the band rocked Hoge would hold his blond Tele above his head, and lean backwards and sideways into the microphone to sing a lyric.

He mentioned how nice it was to have an audience that knew the words, and responded by playing “Heartbreak Avenue”, a song he said the band rarely tries, pulled from the “Carousel” album. “Favorite Waste of Time” had a Smithereens crunch to it, while “Better Off (Now that You’re Gone)” from his underappreciated “Blackbird on a Lonely Wire” album showcased the band’s ability to take a sugary rock song and infuse it with off-the-beaten-Nashville-path twang. Halfway through the show, it was evident Hoge was back. Sure, he sat a few times, either to rest or for effect. Either way was OK, because when he did stand, strap on the electric guitar, and rock, that’s the Will Hoge experience that most seemed to relish.

And you have to be proud of Indy to pack 500 or so into a club for a band whose music doesn’t fit neatly onto the radio in 2009. It’s a shame, a sham, and a pity; Hoge is the guy delivers energy and connection with his rock music, not to mention some great fuckin’ lyrics on top of the guitar snarls and snare snaps.

The staccato riffs of “Your Fool” revved the song and audience up, and the current radio song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” proved to be anthemic, as expected, singing about the powers of ambition filtered through the radio of a kid. It began a sweep into the back half of the show that found the audience finding their voice, and singing with Hoge.

The crowd knew and sang with “Ms. Williams”, the Elvis Costello-ish “Hard to Love” and laughed along with a story of him breaking into one of the band’s two hotel rooms to find the guitar and bass players on the web, watching video’s of 80’s heavy metal band the Scorpions..

Ending the set by sitting at the piano for “Too Late Too Soon”, Hoge and the band soon came back for a nine-song, end of tour blowout encore, channeling the Georgia Satellites, Todd Snider, The Faces and The Who as they sweated their way through “Just Like Me,” , Long Gone” and a beautiful “Highway’s Home” featuring guitarist Devin Malone on pedal steel.

Near the end. Hoge said the band was going to do a “social experiment” and took them into the back of the room, with only acoustic instruments, and sang and played unamplified, quieting the crowd with harmonies, before he jumped back on stage to perform a sublime, gospel-influenced, “Washed by the Water”. It found Malone moving over to play the keyboard, and eerily emulating a church organ. The audience sang the chorus back to Hoge as the singer waved and walked off the stage.

Will Hoge’s ability to rock and roll with aplomb and walk away with a big smile was a far cry from the days following his accident, after a van driver failed to yield and Hoge smashed into the side of the vehicle. He broke numerous ribs, his sternum, leg, knee cap, shoulder blades, and required more than 100 stitches. So it’s quite a distance traveled for Hoge. Just only once did he quickly mention how “tough it had been” before he fell back into his show, performing like he was glad to be back.

Great, up-close video from the show – November 21, 2009 at Radio Radio

Video – Will Hoge (live performance)

One of the best roots rockers of his generation (there’s a statement that is unfair, eh?), Will Hoge has a new album (“The Wreckage”) out on September 29th.  Here’s a video from the CBS Early Show that is a nice little introductory piece on him – a performance and short interview.  He had a terribly severe accident on his way home from the recording studio last August, and it has taken him almost a year to recover. 

I saw him in Indianapolis last summer  – a free (no shit!) outdoor show at the terrific Rathskeller Biergarten.  Dan Baird, of  Georgia Satellites fame, played guitar for him.  Killer performance. It was, without hestitation, the best show I saw all summer.  Springsteen comparisons are apt, but he’s more like a younger Tom Petty –  insightful, soulful, heartfelt rock and fuckin’ roll.

He’s back in our town Indy on November 21 at Radio Radio.

Indiana Album Review: Shelby Kelley – “Alone”

I live in Indianapolis.  I love Indiana rock and roll.  Hoosier albums come my way a lot; through stories and review I write  for NUVO, and through unsolicited packages.   To call much of it Mellencamp infused and influenced would be far too simplistic. But much of the really good music from Indiana does contain  “Scarecrow” and “Lonesome Jubilee” echoes, even if only faintly heard. But there is usually some Petty.  It has Seger.  I even hear R.E.M influences in a lot of it.  Oh, and add some country shit too.  Maybe Cheap Trick, but then I think any great rock band that has come of age after 1981 is influenced in some way by Cheap Trick. – it’s one of my idiosyncrasies.  Whatever.  I can’t help it.   I could go on, but the more I think about it, the more I think I may be wrong.  There are those bands, but also weird, sensational, inspired surprises that come from the best Indiana artists, hidden – or not – in their music.

shelbykelley_albumShelby Kelley is probably known best in Indianapolis as a member of Creepin’ Charley and the Boneyard Orchestra, but here steps out on his own for a raw-but-clean solo album.

With the appropriately named “Alone”, Kelley gives us an acoustic guitar-based, Americana album, featuring Kelly’s voice, guitar and occasional harmonica as the only instruments. He strips down the garage rock of his Creepin’ Charley band, and crafts an intimate-yet-rocking solo record that showcases his folk rock side

Standing somewhere between Tom Petty and Robert Earl Keen, the record proves inviting and engaging, though the lyrics, despite some good lines, are always fighting to keep up with Kelley’s terrific rhythm guitar. If you are going to make a record as simple and basic as “Alone”, listeners need both memorable melodies and meaningful lyrics. There is no crash-bam-boom drums or gritty guitar solos to provide rescue. When Kelley’s music and lyrics do connect (“Based on a True Story”, “End of It All”, “Down This Road”), listener patience is rewarded.

“I Know” opens the record in a Petty “Free Fallin’ feel, with lyrics peering, from an outsider viewpoint, into the soul of girl’s lost innocence, while “Down This Road” is a country-tinged rocker, hinting that Kelley may have some Joe Ely cassettes at home. Kelley’s hard strumming rhythm guitar makes the tune one of the best on the album. The sweet harmonica solo in the middle is all the more powerful because of the sparse use of instruments on the record.

“End Of It All ” carries the record into the rough pop-rock hooks and Springsteen themes at which Kelley excels.

Kelley’s channels Pretender-era Jackson Browne on “Wish Upon Wish”, letting his voice become the leader; his California rock sound no more evident than here.

Part of the success of the record comes from the clarity-plus-fullness sound. Recorded without much evident reverb, there’s immediacy to the sound that helps pull a listener’s ears into the album. Recorded at Stable Studios in Spencer, Indiana and engineered by Michael Osborne, the production gives the album a sound much like a Kelley live solo show.

A bit less successful is “Camelot is Burning”. Not as pop-influenced as other songs, and tougher to instantly like, Kelley and Osborne add a bit of processing to the guitar, giving the song a different feel than the rest of the songs on the album. And the breakdown before each chorus effectively builds musical tension and becomes the tunes’ hook. Similar to “Dead End Skies” later it the record, they are two of the album’s songs that take more than one or two listens to find their heart

“Based on a True Story” ends the eight-song album with a powerful flourish. Again into Robert Earl Keen/Todd Snider territory, taking his shot at the story-song “Road Goes on Forever” template, it is one that works well for Kelley.

It’s the consistent energy and in-the-room sound produced from Shelby Kelley’s gut-grabbing three-chord guitar playing that gives “Alone” the needed push. It makes the full-yet-simple guitar and vocals record worthy of a listen for fans of Americana singer-songwriters.

Roots Rock Notes: Gaslight Anthem live acoustic, Wilco on tour, Petty kicks back, Son Volt’s new album

I have your audio, your video, the news you didn’t know, and it’s all free. Unbelieveable, I know.
.: Hey, ho, rock and roll. Deliver me from nowhere… :.

•Brian Fallon and his band The Gaslight Anthem are one of the (deservedly so) hot bands right now – schooled in the art of the garage rock and the rock-with-a punk-edge bands like The Replacements. “I don’t think there would be a Gaslight Anthem without the Replacements,” Fallon told SPIN Magazine. He played an acoustic cover of the Minnesota indie band’s “Left of the Dial,” and it is posted on the magazine’s website.
Watch 3 song acoustic session including “That ’59 Sound” and “Left of the Dial”.

WILCO IN BLOOMINGTON w/ Hawk and a Hacksaw opening
•A legendary alt-country band, right? One step removed from Uncle Tupelo, Jeff Tweedy and his band are in Bloomington for a show at the Jeff TweedyIU Memorial Auditorium on April 16. It’s not sold out; kinda interesting. The band plays two nights in Milwaukee before coming to Bloomington, and both of those are sold out, though the proximity of Milwaukee to Chicago aids that sale. (you can hear two previous concerts on their website)

According to the band site, a still-untitled next Wilco album is nearing completion. Jim Scott and the band just finished mixing in Jim’s studio in Valencia, California. They list song titles, though the record isn’t sequenced and some titles may change:
Deeper Down
Conscript (aka I’ll Fight)
One Wing
Wilco (the song)
Country Disappeared
Bull Black Nova
Sonny Feeling
You and I

WILCO American Tour Schedule (from

→Son Volt will return this summer with their sixth-full length album. The new record is titled American Central Dust.

→Rosanne Cash is dipping back into her childhood for her next album, “The List”.”‘The List’ is based on a list my father made for me when I was 18 years old,” Cash tells Billboard. “He called it the ‘100 Essential Country Songs’ and said if I learned this list, I would be truly educated. We are culling about 15 songs from the list, and re-interpreting them, with the respect of an archivist…”.

→Ron Wood said that he’s recorded about a dozen songs for a solo album called “More Good News.” Produced by Bob Rock and Wood , with gueststhat include Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.

→Sister Hazel plays at the Bluebird in Bloomington on Friday night.

“We played on the last tour and there were some empty seats here and there and, well, there shouldn’t be any empty seats at an E Street Band show,” he told the LA Times. “I hold pride that we remain one of the great wonders of the world . . . so sometimes you got to remind people a little bit.”
read full story

The Beatles whole catalog is going to be digitally re-mastered and released on September 9. The remastered discs will be available individually in stereo and in two box sets – one stereo and another in mono. Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, Yellow Submarine, The Beatles (The White Album), Abbey Road and Let It Be all get remastered, plus Past Masters I and II.

→The David Lynch Foundation’s Transcendental Meditation benefit in New York became a Beatles reunion of sorts as Ringo Starr joined Paul McCartney on stage for the show’s three-song finale at Radio City Music Hall
read story here

John Paul Keith and the One Four Fives
John Paul Keith is a native of Knoxville, TN, living in Memphis and has played in a lot of bands (The V-Roys, among others). Listen to his tunes on myspace and if you want to (BOOTLEG ALERT) download a free live album of his work, click on this link
“This was a gig I did in Knoxville at the Corner Lounge about 3 years ago, with a pickup band put together by Jeff,” Keith said. “This was an important gig for me at the time, because I hadn’t played my songs in public in about 2 years, and it was really great to play for the home folks. It really inspired me to get going again. Not long after that show, the One Four Fives eventually got together in Memphis.”

•Inside the randomness that is my digital library. Shuffling the iPod, and we take the first five tunes, starting now:

1. “Lookin’ For Love” – J. Geils Band
From a bootleg recorded in Detroit in 1977. They are the only band I have never seen live that I really wanted to. I grew up in Michigan, so word would filter out of Detroit that the band had played some four-hour show at a club. By the time they went big with Freeze Frame in 1980, the nastiness was a bit worn off. Their live albums before that, especially “Blow Your Face Out”, are essential.

After spending most of this decade on hiatus, they played the new House of Blues club in Boston in February and will return to Detroit to play the Fillmore April 24.. The HOB set was reportedly great, as the Patriot-Ledger described the band as “light-years beyond every expectation, inhumanly tight despite a lengthy hiatus, and palpably enjoying every minute of their return”.

2. “That’s What I Am” – Dan Baird
Off his first solo record “Love Songs for the Hearing Impaired”, this is a party song set to a Chuck Berry-meets-Replacements groove. The hit off this album was the cute but cool “I Love You Period”. I saw this tour in Fort Wayne, with a band that had (speaking of the Replacements) Slim Dunlap on guitar.

3. ” So Hard Done By” – The Tragically Hip
Who the hell is Tragically Hip, you ask? Probably one the most critically acclaimed rock and roll bands to come from Canada. Another show I saw in Fort Wayne (at the same bar as Baird too). Really underplayed on radio stations of America. They are like a Canadian Cheap Trick – been around forever, melodic songs, and great live show. They also harken back to the 70’s with echoes of REO along with a definite 1990’s alt rock taste, yet not overwhelmingly so.  I hear BoDeans in their music too.

4. ”Kiss Me in the Dark” – Randy Rogers Band
Some of that great Red Dirt country rock, out of Texas and Oklahoma. One of my favorite sounds is this little genre. Cross Canadian Ragweed, Stoney Larue, and Charlie Robison are just a few who have made a career touring Texas. Rogers has now been on Letterman and “The Tonight Show” in the past year.

5. “Fallen Angel” (live) – Poison
I’ve got no problem pledging my love to the golden age of Poison, and it survives, even through the whole Bret Michaels “Rock Bus of Love” thing. Part bubble gum rock, part heartland rock (the band is from Pennsylvania, in case we all forgot), and complete candy. Plus the original members are still together, so that counts fror something. Guilty pleasure? Your call.

Tom Petty
•Excellent interview with Tom Petty on his website from late last year that I just came across. It includes the greatest answer ever to the the following question:
Interviewer: “Tell me about a day-in-the-life of Tom Petty, off the road and out of the studio. What’s on the itinerary?”
Tom Petty: “It could be any number of things. That house I have on a lake plays a big role these days. I get some books, sit around and read for awhile, then maybe go out on my boat and try to catch a few bass, come in and watch a few movies in the evening, maybe smoke one, play guitar or noodle at the piano. But this not working thing is, for me, really harder than working” (laughs).

Read full interview (.pdf) – interviewed by Warren Zanes, former guitar player for Del Fuegos and now a Ph.D who teaches, and was a past VP of Education at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

BONUS: I am in Indianapolis. Heartland and shit. So I want to feature some Indiana roots rockers on the blog; there are many around who fit not-so-neatly into the Americana genre.  Look for them here soon.

“Check check. One-two.  Testing one-two…ssss. Ch…ch…Check.” 
Let’s make sure this thing is on…
Blue Flannel Shirt – Rusty Bladen