(ASBURY PARK, NJ) - On Saturday, August 5th Will Hoge returned to the Saint on a bill that also featured Rick Barry & The Mourning After and Almost There. People have been raving about Will Hoge's shows for years and after seeing him live it's easy to see why. It was an enormously fun night with great sets from all three acts, but Hoge's set might have been one of the best I've seen this year.
Almost There from Ocean Township kicked off the night. Dressed up in slick suits (thank God the heat wave broke the day before) they blazed through a rather energetic set of rock and roll tunes that had a solid pop rock base. A cover of the Beatles somewhat missed the mark but the band's originals were pretty solid. Speaking of the suits, are we experiencing some sort of Jersey Shore 60s image revival going on with Status Green and now Almost There both dressing up even during hot summer shows? Both bands have a serious 60s influence too. It's like Liverpool has taken over!
Rick Barry & The Mourning After followed. Well, actually a couple members of Rick's band couldn't make it so it was more like a "Rick Barry & Friends" show. Even with a makeshift band, it certainly didn't sound like one.
Rick opened with a solo performance of "Courage For A Rainy Day" - the song which was a finalist in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest for song of the year. He then brought the band on stage for the rest of the night. As the club began to fill, the crowd somewhat resembled an "Asbury-palooza" of sorts. The local music scene was well represented through member of Days Awake, Status Green, Woodfish, Maybe Pete, Last Perfect Thing, Divine Sign, and Agency.
Didn't anybody else have a gig on a Saturday night?
It was an interesting set from Mr. Barry. Probably due to the makeshift band, but this was the closest I've ever seen to a "Greatest Hits" night from him. Normally, he's debuting several songs per show. Tonight, he focused on the songs he's most known for. There were killer versions of "The Vixen" (a song that sounds a million times better with a band behind him), "Will You Be My Whore" (which probably appeared the earliest in a set I've ever seen Rick play it), "I've Got Your Number", "Wasteland" (which is my favorite Rick Barry song when he's doing a full band show), "Broken English" and "Stupid American Song".
I swear someday I'm gonna try convincing Rick to hire 20 beautiful models for a big show to sing backup on "Broken English". Maybe have them dancing in a steel cage - yeah, steel cages and bikinis! All I know is that it would be guaranteed to grab at least a few dozen new fans.
The great Will Hoge closed out the night. I'd been hearing tales of his Saint shows for years and finally got the chance to see him live. Let's just say that everything I was told was true. He truly is a spectacular live performer. And it was one of the most fun sets I've seen in a long time. The band reminds me of the first time I saw the Black Crowes on tour in the late 80s. They have the energy and passion of the Rolling Stones and the gritty raspyness of the Crowes. Hoge even sounds a bit like Chris Robinson.
Some highlights included "Man Who Killed Love" and "Pocketful of Change" off of his most recent CD and several cover tunes that rocked the house. The band did a very trippy cover of Chuck Berry's "Around and Around" - it kind of sounded how I would imagine Eric Burdon would have done it in the 60s. A wonderful cover of "Money (That's What I Want)" took the party to a new level, but it was the surprise of Van Halen's "Jump" that made the evening complete. Apparently "Jump" is one of the songs Will Hoge and his band fool with during soundchecks and always threatened to do live. With Russell on lead vocals, "Jump" was one of those moments you just had to see.
With his choice of covers it's easy to see why people have compared a Will Hoge show to an early Bruce Springsteen show. Both seem to enjoy taking classic songs that you know by heart but probably haven't heard it a while and simply have fun jamming with them on stage. On this night, it looked every bit like Will Hoge was having as much fun as the audience was.
Two people that weren't having much fun were from the Asbury Park Fire Marshall department who came to the club halfway through Hoge's set. Interesting to see them on a Saturday night, but their timing couldn't have been better as Adam Weisberg, the co-owner of the Saint and the club's legal arm, was in the house. Adam answered their questions and had them on their way within a few minutes. Another disaster avoided!
If you've ever wondered how a tiny club like The Saint gets people like Will Hoge to make a stop through town, Hoge offered up a hint tonight. He told a little story about when he first put the band together he was playing in New York City and needed additional places to play. A booking agent told him about the Saint and it wound up being one of the first places they played in the area. He then personally thanked Scott Stamper for giving him that chance. The loyalty so many artists show to Scott and the Saint is why the club is able to continually bring big names to town.
For an encore Will Hoge introduced a song that should appear on their next CD. It was a beautifully soulful number written from a woman's perspective. Hoge said the inspiration came from listening to an awful lot of Aretha Franklin on the road. And with that, the enormously fun night came to a close. From party songs to bluesy numbers to straight rock and roll, Will Hoge and his band did it all. If you've never seen him live, make sure to catch him next time he rolls through town. The cult is growing bigger each time...
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.