Supershammed, but blown away

On February 20, Classic Albums Live presented a stellar performance of classic hits by Supertramp, including “The Logical Song,” “Bloody Well Right” and “School.” The Sanderson Centre was packed, the music was outstanding and one Sputnik writer was left questioning everything he knew to be true and right in the world.

When I was 11, my mom bought a kick-ass new stereo system. One of the very first albums she played (and I recall this vividly) was Crime of the Century, a classic prog-rock piece from 70’s-80’s band, Supertramp. I remember listening to that album from start to finish, then playing it over again and again. And still to this day, I recognize those songs immediately by the first few sounds: the train rolling by on “Rudy”; the intro blast from Roger Hodgson’s Wurlitzer electric piano on “Dreamer.” And when I discovered that they had more than one album… well, I became a Supertramp fan for life.

On February 20, Classic Albums Live brought a gaggle of talented musicians and a metric fuck-ton of instruments (woodwinds and megaphones and kazoos, oh my!) to the Sanderson Centre stage and proceeded to blow the roof off the place with a performance so closely resembling that of my favourite British superband, my half-drunk companion leaned over minutes into the performance and whispered (read: yelled and slurred), “are these guys actually Supertramp?” I, sober as a priest, dismissed her with a frown, while silently reassuring myself of my own certainties: “they are not Supertramp, they are not Supertramp.”

Listen, put yourself in my shoes: you’ve had these tickets for weeks, but you’ve never really done any research on what you’re going to see. You show up late for the performance, finding your J Row seats in the dark amidst a packed house while the band softly begins “Goodbye Stranger.” Your companion, in a stupor, begins cheering like she’s at a Jay-Z concert, leaving you to pull her down into her seat. Finally, you raise your eyes to the stage just twenty seconds into the song, right as the low dulcet tones of “Stranger” are shattered by a hard lick from the electric guitar, an explosion from the drums and a flourish from the stage lights.

“Whoa,” you think. “Is that… no, it can’t be!”

The front man, Toronto-based vocalist Phil Naro, “Roger Hodgson” himself, is a spit-take of the famous Mr. Supertramp: a long, dark, curly mane of hair, a la Robert Plant circa 1973; a wiry frame decked out in all-black form-fitting clothing, including a shirt that, where buttons should have been looped through holes, featured instead a tuft of proud chest hair and a vaguely mystical-looking silver necklace. He gripped the microphone with both hands, holding on for dear life as he belted out powerful alto-range notes with gently closed eyes, swaying slightly from side to side. There was something hazy and ambiguous about this guy: too clean to be a drug-addled skeleton, too unkempt to take home to your mother, and oozing just enough machismo to make your girlfriends jealous (note: this all assumes that we have stumbled into a wormhole which pelvic thrusted us back to the early 70’s).

Naro not only looked the part, but he sounded it, too. Same goes for Doug Inglis, who assumed the role of Supertramp co-founder and vocalist, Rick Davies. On “Asylum,” Inglis damn near lost his mind as he frenetically screamed and shook all over, mimicking the crazed ramblings of Davies toward the end of the song. Inglis was visually ecstatic, energetically manning a host of instruments throughout the night and dancing like someone laced his microphone with LSD.

One of the crucial moments came when the band began “Take the Long Way Home.” The song is one of Supertramp’s most popular and, to me, embodies the essence of the band: rich in sound and multi-layered in meaning. But most importantly, it’s that harmonica. The first long, screeching breath of the harmonica just 15 seconds into “Home” is recognizable by any Tramp fan, hardcore or otherwise. To nail that opening riff is to really signal “Supertramp.” And when Inglis lurched forward with a deep exhale into the harmonica, it sent ripples of wild applause through the audience and a parade of goosebumps down my arms and legs. This is Supertramp.

It’s difficult to point out fault in Classic Albums Live Presents “Crime of the Century” – where do you find it? The albums featured are classics: it doesn’t make them immune to criticism but it certainly means that everything that could be said about them has been said. And the performance itself was nearly spot-on. Nearly. Maybe a clarinet was a touch off for the first few notes on “Breakfast in America,” or maybe a whistle’s pitch wasn’t quite right on “Goodbye Stranger.” But if you’re happy to avoid being a stickler, then Classic Albums Live delivered exactly what it promised: a classic Supertramp performance, “note for note, cut for cut.”

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