Jacob Hoggard has come a long way since his Canadian Idol days when he finished third in the 2004 season. Since then, he's been a busy boy, having released five albums with a retooled Hedley band post-Idol (Dave Rosin—guitar; Tommy Macdonald—bass; Chris Crippin—drums).
He and the band are out on their Wild Live tour currently playing up their latest CD, Wild Life, with the Feb. 26, 2014 stop at Hamilton's FirstOntario Centre marking the eighth city on a 35-city, cross-country "road trip", as Hoggard called it last night.
For about the first two-thirds of the tour, Hedley is traveling with Alyssa Reid, JRDN and Danny Fernandes, a rare triple treat with most concerts featuring only one opener, or two if the artist is feeling particularly generous.
The consequence of this is each opener doesn't have a lot of stage time, which is either a plus or minus, depending on how you feel about each musician. Reid was up first, followed by JRDN, and each played about a 20-minute set. Fernandes, the third opener, was allotted about twice as much time. There was a different flavour with each act, with JRDN borrowing on the smooth-moves concept used by Usher, and Fernandes enthusiastically engaging in fist pumping and finger pointing.
But judging by the screams directed at the curtain-shrouded stage, the act that everyone came to see was Hedley.
Their set was divided into two halves separated by a brief intermission, with a video preceding each half that showed the band members on the verge of missing their own show either by sleeping in or over-indulging in a margarita party. It was a clever tactic used to both ramp up the audience and keep them busy while things were being set up, but the fancily-decorated stage would have sufficed. It featured a blaze of lights on the back wall, an elevated drum set, and a catwalk that jutted out into the crowd with inserts at the back for dry ice and pyrotechnics.
Hoggard was very energetic for the first several songs, perhaps giving the photographers in the pit a little more material than they're used to. Either way, it benefited everyone: the media got what they wanted, the crowd was whipped into a screaming frenzy, and Hoggard boosted his reputation as a give-it-all performer.
The thing about Hedley, though, is they sound more like an amalgamation of other influences than their own, unique brand. Think back to when Feist released "1, 2, 3, 4": there wasn't really a sound, either musically or instrumentally, around that was like it, and has since caused others to replicate it en masse.
Hedley, on the other hand, seems to have traveled in the other direction, becoming the band that picks up on other sounds to create one homogenous pot instead of triggering that reaction in others.
Take "Heaven in Our Headlights" as an example and compare it with "Some Nights" by Fun. The two songs share similar choruses, as well as the same head-bopping percussive rhythm. Just in case that example isn't enough, take a listen to the choruses of Hedley's "For the Nights I Can't Remember" and Edwin McCain's "I'll Be", or the beginnings of "Perfect" and Tupac's "Changes". There are enough similarities between Hedley and other groups that instead of being able to sit back and enjoy their sound, it becomes a head-scratching event of "Where else did I hear that bit?"
That aside, it is a lot of fun to watch them, as Hoggard tries to channel a bit of the Jagger-swagger into his routine, takes time to touch hands with fans, and jumps, twirls, kicks, runs and sings his heart out. Too many performers prefer to sit back and let the audience come to them, but Hoggard works for every second of attention and manages to make a big venue feel like an intimate bar show. The flip side of that is because he knows how to work a large arena, what he says between and during songs is directly channeled at increasing the audience's volume instead of intellectually interacting with them.
For those who are fans of Hedley and the acts he brought with them, it was a good, energetic and lively show; and for those wanting to see a band that carves its own innovative path instead of playing it safe, they'd be better off waiting for another musician to come to town.