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French Version

Hodgson gives Byblos a reality break

Capacity audience cheered, danced and sang along at festival opening


With a blood orange full moon rising behind him, the warm waves of the Mediterranean washing against the shore in front of him and a crowd of worshipful fans in between, Roger Hodgson, bore a striking resemblance to Jesus Christ on Friday night.

And at the risk of sounding sacrilegious the former lead singer of the famed rock group Supertramp, seemed to make wine out of water by performing the band's classic songs solo with either a guitar, piano or organ and making them sound almost as good as with a full compliment of musicians.

I say almost, because songs such as "Take The Long Way Home" and "School" will never sound the same without the saxophones and ensemble band. But then they didn't have to.

The capacity audience at the ancient port of Byblos cheered, danced and sang along to songs beloved by millions the world over, hanging on every note of Hodgson's unique and still commandingly tuned and powerful voice.

And their cheer and need for escape was much needed.

After hearing midway through the show of car bomb explosion in Beirut's popular entertainment Monnot Street that evening - what was clearly an attempt by those who want to hurt the beauty and potential peace of Lebanon by sowing fear amongst a population who are tired of political games - the crowd refused to be cowed by terror and begged Hodgson for encore after encore. Few left till the end despite the news spreading through the crowd.

The opening concert of Byblos was a remarkably good show from an accomplished singer-songwriter. Gaunt, dressed in a lime green shirt, white pants and white sneakers Hodgson walked on stage, sat at his electric organ, smiled and launched into "Take The Long Way Home."

From that moment on he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He was chatty and friendly, and surprised and happy to see that people in Lebanon knew his music. He talked to the audience.

"What a beautiful place for a concert. Thank you so much. See if you know this one," he would say, "but you might have to help me by singing along."

Hodgson didn't have to ask as the crowd, which ranged in age from young children to their grandparents, was singing along before he even started - from the "hey-ah" refrain on "Breakfast In America" to the vocal harmonies on "Hide In Your Shell," to every single word of "Give A Little Bit."

It was sentimental, yes, and feel good. There is something about Hodgson's simple yet introspective lyrics, the positive chords and uplifting melodies that would make even the most hardened of music snobs get to their feet.

On one of his solo songs post-Supertramp, his words are simple and ironic, nostalgic and questioning at the same time: "I really miss London, I really miss London. / I really miss the queen / but does she miss me?"

Hodgson, though born in the U.K., has lived in California for half of his life and spends a lot of time walking in nature and going on spiritual retreats. He told me before the show that though he misses England he does not want to go back and perhaps some of his reasons were iterated in that song.

Hodgson is a remarkably calm and possessed performer and wholly versatile, a master of his instruments and his voice. Whether holding those chords on the organ for favorite tracks like "Dreamer" or strumming the guitar on "Even In The Quietest Moments," or hitting the high notes with his inimitable voice on "The Logical Song," he gave the crowd a concert they wouldn't forget.

For the encore Hodgson played the classic "School" on the guitar with the audience filling in the piano solos and crowding the front of the stage. And as he walked off, the masses, their thirst quenched, left with some feeling that there is more to life than a trail a of ugly bomb blasts.

Beirut 25-07-2005
Ramsay Short
The Daily Star

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