At Rogers Arena on Saturday, March 24
In the interest of journalistic honesty (and at the risk of courting the scorn of the band's fans), I'm going to admit that, before Saturday, I couldn't have told you the name of a single Hedley song. The group is so far off my radar that my sole frame of reference is the memory of watching frontman Jacob Hoggard butcher David Bowie's "Space Oddity" in a semi-scandalous jumpsuit on Season 2 of Canadian Idol.
So it was a bit like culture shock to be watching him, eight years later, play to an arena. Not a full one, mind you—the nosebleeds were empty—but still, that's pretty impressive for an act that operates almost entirely outside of the collective consciousness of people who actually care about music.
Okay, that's not really fair. Hedley's fans care about Hedley, at the very least. And I’ve probably pissed them off already. Let me head off the inevitable flood of indignant comments by addressing the most obvious one first. Yes, you’re absolutely right: the Straight should have sent someone who was already an avowed Hedley fan to cover the show. Because, obviously, the best way to get an unbiased critique of something is to send someone who is strongly biased in its favour.
But enough about my ignorance. One thing I do know is how to find song titles on the Interwebs. Hence, I can report that Hedley started the homecoming concert on its Shipwrecked tour in rock mode, blasting through the oldies “321”, “On My Own”, “Street Fight”, and “She’s So Sorry” in rapid succession. It wasn’t long, though, before the prodigiously tattooed Hoggard sat down at a baby grand piano that had suddenly appeared at centre stage. This clearly meant that it was power-ballad time. “Heaven's Gonna Wait”, from Hedley’s most recent album, Storms, was exactly that: big, emotional, and heartstring-tugging but ultimately forgettable. It did, however, showcase the fact that Hoggard most certainly has the vocal chops to pull such a thing off.
He proved that beyond doubt during the inevitable unplugged interlude, for which the guys were seated in a rowboat and dressed in yellow rain jackets and sou’westers (it was a running theme). "All You Get Is Sound" and “Beautiful" are pretty, if unsubstantial songs, but they gave Hoggard a chance to show off his confident crooning. By the time the band bailed out of its skiff and resumed their places for "Sweater Song", it started to feel like a Jason Mraz concert or something. Just when I thought Hedley had abandoned rocking for good, the song exploded into a fiery Dave Rosin guitar solo.
And then it was back to the piano, and…quite frankly I started to lose track. But there was still an hour left to go, an hour that included Hoggard mugging with a T-shirt cannon a drum solo by Chris Crippin, and an on-stage dance party.
The band (which also includes bassist Tommy Mac, lest I fail to mention him) is more than competent—in fact, they're all excellent, accomplished players. Hoggard, in particular, has, in addition to that voice, both the boundless energy and the seemingly effortless charm of a born star. But Hedley’s material has no edge whatsoever. Even their earlier, heavier stuff is pop-punk-by-numbers. That makes it perfect fodder for the 14-year-old girls who sing along to every word, and fair enough.
Come to think of it, maybe the Straight should send one of those callow teens to review the next Hedley concert. At least she would know all the song titles without having to Google them.