The crowds in Brighton are always a mixed bag. Students, die-hard fans of the acts on any particular evening, casual live music goers or just the curious can normally be found in the various venues around the city on any given night and tonight is no exception however, the audience is split almost 50/50 between fans of the more traditional sounds of Will Hoge and fans of the slightly more rough around the edges headline act, Lucero. On arrival the room was two-thirds full which would please any support act and the bassist from Lucero, acting as a compere of sorts, arrives on stage declaring the night a ‘Tennessee Takeover’ and introduces the ‘man with a golden voice’, Will Hoge.
Will took the stage with just an acoustic guitar and wasted no time before launching into ‘Still A Southern Man’ from his latest release ‘My American Dream’, a no-holds-barred collection of protest songs and musings about his home country and it’s clear that behind his seemingly relaxed demeanour, Hoge is angry, brimming with passion and has arrived on these shores with something to say. ‘Too Old To Die Young’ is a straight-up country song and even without the energy of his full band (that he left back in the USA) to back him up, the songs stand on their own performed acoustically and make the lyrical content that little bit more personal. A couple of songs into the set, a few members of the crowd had started to get a little bit enthusiastic and can almost be heard over the sound of the PA however, Hoge, rather than address the situation opted to counter by really belting the songs out cementing his reputation, at least this evening, as the man with the golden voice.
For a performer that is normally joined on stage by a group of people, Will seems incredibly relaxed in front of the large crowd and after claiming that he might have to settle down in the UK following his latest record and its strong opposition to the current POTUS, launches into a sombre ballad vocally reminiscent of Elvis Costello ‘Oh Mr Barnum’ an obvious allegorical reference to the man himself and it provided a nice change of pace in what had been quite an upbeat set up to that point and set up the second low-key track of the night, introduced as originally having been recorded with Sheryl Crow on harmonies, ‘Little Bit of Rust’ adopting a particularly country sound with an incredibly infectious chorus, you can imagine this song being a hit on country radio stations back in his home state.
The final three tracks are where Hoge really hits his stride, and using a deceptive anecdote about Jesus coming to visit him in Tennessee he introduces the centrepiece to his set ‘Jesus Came to Tennessee’ which was frantic, upbeat and entertaining in every way possible. Delivering the lyrics rapidly and colloquially we were treated to a number of fantasy situations whereby Will spends some time with Jesus and explores a number of scenarios supporting the teachings of the bible and dispelling myths about the teachings of the bible. ‘Home Is Where The Heart Breaks’ was a powerful track and potentially the most personal of the lyrical content of the evening: however, it was juxtaposed with some uplifting chords and, unsurprisingly, a brilliant melody throughout. Bringing the set to a close was ‘Nikki is a Republican Now’, another track taken from the newest release which highlights the extreme nature of the political climate in the US now and how it is seemingly intertwined with every day life and with the title repeated in the chorus, it was difficult not to sing along. A great end to a truly enjoyable set – let’s just hope next time he reaches the UK, he brings his band over for a longer, headline slot.