Thursday, September 10, 2009

"And There Is More..." : Todd Rundgren Live In Stamford

Two remastered Beatles' box sets and seeing Todd Rundgren perform "A Wizard/A True Star" in its entirety both on the same day is more than one man can handle. I mean, what's left on my bucket list? Traveling the world? Antiquing with Norah Jones? Smacking Dane Cook across the face? Not much.

The Stamford Palace was barely 3/4 full for last night's historic performance; a performance that began with a Utopia reunion mini-set and ended with an exhausting circus that featured Todd Rundgren and his band recreating not just the music from the 1973 masterpiece, "A Wizard/A True Star," but the...well I'm still not sure what.

Let me get to the music, and hopefully something/anything may reveal itself to me before this piece concludes.

Todd, longtime and long lost Utopia keyboardist Roger Powell, bassist Kasim Sulton, and drummer Prairie Prince took the bare bones stage at 8:15, wearing white t-shirts and black trousers and proceeded to recreate the 1980 Utopia set list. "The Road To Utopia," "Abandon City," "Caravan," "Back On The Street," even a truncated version of the 30 minute epic "The Ikon," all sounded a bit under-rehearsed, (because they were) but absolutely powerful.

Roger Powell who has spent the last 10 years or so working for Apple Computers, looked like a frightened rabbit behind his keyboard, and Prairie Prince, the original drummer for The Tubes who has been playing with Todd for close to 15 years now, alternated stares between his crib notes and the solid-as-always Kasim Sulton. He was clearly unprepared, often missing cues or just barely making them work. Todd was not amused, tunring his back on the audience more than twice to scold Prairie and not realizing none of us cared that much. The band was more than just a "surprise opening act." They left you wanting more, warts and all.

I'm not one to give Todd slack for sloppiness. Some call it charming. I call it SLOPPY. I've seen the man perform more than any other artist in my lifetime, and I know what he is capable of doing. But at one point, he broke a guitar string and the guitar tech was nowhere to be found. The band was still playing and Todd was looking off stage to no avail. He removed his guitar, threw his arms up in the air, and had to retrieve a new axe from behind the stage curtain himself. That could not have felt good.

The intermission was almost 50 minutes long. I could only imagine what was going on back stage.

"Here we are again..."

The opening lines from "International Feel," side one, track one and here comes Todd in a space suit. What happened from here on out, is still a bit of a blur. For those unfamiliar with "A Wizard/A True Star" here is what All Music has to say:

"As much a mind-fuck as an album, A Wizard, a True Star rarely breaks down to full-fledged songs, especially on the first side, where songs and melodies float in and out of a hazy post-psychedelic mist."

Well, with each change of tempo, melody and idea, Todd appeared in a different costume, speed-walking off stage and back, while the band flawlessly played this legendary suite of music. It was both spectacular and a spectacular distraction. The show was never boring, and at times, specifically when Todd stayed put during the lengthier songs like "Zen Archer," "Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel," and "The Soul Melody," his voice was magical, sounding stronger than it has in years.

Another particular highlight was hearing Kasim take over the vocals for the 90 second piece of pop perfection, "Does Anybody Love You." Kasim Sulton's presence has always kept Todd on solid ground and his vocals are as powerful as they were when he made his debut in Utopia as an 18 year old in 1976.

As we reach the end of the record, we also reach the more fully realized songs, so the finale of "The Soul Medley, "Hungry For Love," my vote for one of the most beautiful and moving songs ever written, "I Don't Want To Tie You Down," "Is It My Name," "Sunset Boulevard," (played out of sequence) and "Just One Victory" brought the evening to a much-needed stretch of straight rock and roll. But even the legendary "Just One Victory" guitar-solo, with his patented one-legged pirouette was marred when Todd couldn't get his guitar strap over the cheapo wings of costume #22.

I can't help but think that this brilliant piece of work would have worked so much better without the third-rate costumes and fourth-rate choreography. To see and hear Rundgren cry out these lyrics:

Sometimes it's hard to look up under
The times we're going through
I scratch my head and stare and wonder
How to face the day anew
But it gives my life a bit more meaning
To feel in love with you, so heavy
I don't want to weigh you down, oh baby
I don't want to tie you down
I don't want a thing to mar this ever
The picture that we make
The balance of our minds together
The perfect give and take
For me to let my love possess you
Would be the worst mistake, I'm sorry
I don't want to bring you down, oh baby
I don't want to tie you down, oh jesus
I don't want to nail you down

while looking like this

doesn't really work for me.

Still, at 61 years old, Todd Rundgren did indeed put on a show. He worked harder than he has since the heyday of Utopia and for that I give this "wizard" a lot of credit. But, the "true star" would have shone much more brightly if he trusted in the brilliance of his music and just gracefully sang his songs.


The Phantom Spitter said...

Well, at least he didn't come out in one of those Peter Gabriel Mr Potato Head suits from the early Genesis days.

Sal Nunziato said...

I'll post the equivalent later.

Anonymous said...

I was a bit disappointed with the show Sal, i'm thinking of giving up my tickets for the next show are you interested in taking them off my hands?


Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Tom, but once was enough.

soundsource said...

hey where and when is the next show maybe i'll take em. Sounds like it's well worth seeing even with all the costume changes. Thanks for the review.

Marcia said...

I'm going to guess that the costume you reference as comparable to the Gabriel potatohead costumes was the blue Tweedle-dee-esque costume? Or maybe the gold bare midriff/halter combo?
It sounds like he had some distractions in Stamford which either didn't happen in Akron, or at least went unnoticed. Having see him go through 3 broken guitar strings back in April on the Arena tour, yeah, that would be frustrating. The man does look good in a skirt though. :)

Anonymous said...

I saw it quite differently, though I don't disagree with your ultimate assessment that a straightforward performance would have served the album better and more respectfully. As we discussed, the man has had an entire career dedicated to sabotaging that very career. This seemed like a walk down memory lane, one disaster at a time. His spiel about Nikki Nichols was particularly telling, as I remember Nikki very well from those days. I saw it more as a view of Todd's personal history, through the lens of our own personal history's with Todd. After all, this was not an audience of onlookers. Every one there, knew exactly why they came and each has had a different experience with the music coming in to last night.

cmealha said...

This is what has pissed me off about Todd for quite a while. It seems like he doesn't give a shit and is just going through the motions. What should have been something special sounds like it was and under-rehearsed half-ass take on what I think was one of the special albums that defined him as an artist. When comparing him to Daryl Hall or Bruce Springsteen it just irks me. They're the same age and whether it's Bruce at the Super Bowl or Daryl's monthly sessions at home you tell how much they love and care about what they're doing. I'll just put on AWATS and remember how great Todd used to be.

Sal Nunziato said...


It was not just simply distractions, it was the usual Todd half-assed-ness that really irked me. As Carl said, he always seems angry. He's had a chip on his shoulders since he stopped cracking the top 40 thirty years, but rarely, if ever, tries to overcome that. Something this special should have been treated as special. Why do it otherwise?

And Rich,
While I don't disagree with you not necessarily disagreeing with me, considering Todd's audience is generally the same 800-1000 people in each city, why not respect them with a performance that goes all the way, and not far enough?

Sal Nunziato said...

Actually, Carl didn't say he always seems angry. I did. Carl said half-ass, and I believe he used the word "irk."

misospecial said...

so you have grown impatient with the sheer toddness of the man? other than that, mrs. lincoln...

messy? sure. silly? absolutely. overambitious and underfunded? you bet.

yes, it was all over the place—nothing like the album.

i also heard great material played with fire, humor, joy, and soul. it didn't feel half-assed to me, it was vibrant. warts and all, i prefer that kind of life to a respectful reenactment of this unruly masterpiece.

Sal Nunziato said...

Hey Miso,

So why can't Todd just have fun with all of us? His cranky demeanor, hardly subtle tantrums, and self-deprecating humor belie the moods you just described. How can I have fun when the host is unhappy?

I don't think I said I disliked the show.

misospecial said...

i thought he WAS having fun with us. i experienced the show as a big ole love letter, epitomized during the chorus of "i'm so proud." when he sang "i'm so proud of being...loved by you," i felt a huge surge of love, not personal but directed at us all. it was so unexpected and intense, it brought tears to my eyes...

seems like through the years todd has passed through the consuming fires of disappointment and rage at not being a big noise and has come to appreciate the love and acceptance of, as they say in spinal tap, an audience that has grown not smaller, but more select (paraphrasing).

he's been a glorious mess from the start, and i'm thrilled to see him at 61 playing and singing and staging nonsense with such abandon. he contains multitudes, and while i don't think anyone as stubbornly themselves as todd is going to change in substance at this late date, i do think he has softened and loosened up and become more present.

so that's the show i saw. it's really interesting how far our experiences of an event can range. and i'm glad you liked the show (you're saying you did, right?), although i didn't pick that up from your review.

Sal Nunziato said...

I absolutely "liked" the show and would not have missed it for the world. But I did not love it. I haven't gotten a "good time, love letter" vibe from Todd in years.

It was fun, in 1980, when he used to precede "Set Me Free," with "Here's a medley of our hit." The band was a well-oiled machine. As years went on, Todd grew angrier, almost as each new venture, TR-I, The Pod, rapping, the Lounge Lizard, etc., were rebellious moves JUST so he didn't have to play "The Verb To Love" anymore. The fans stood by him.

Now, the intention was whole-hearted (I guess). The execution was not.

YES...there were those moments suc as the Soul Medley. I DID indeed point that out. But I just don't fins the attitude charming anymore, not for $125 a ticket.

Marcia said...

I agree with a little bit of what everyone said here. And I can only go by my experience in Akron, at the very first date. To me, he seemed into it. I've got to think that he had to be, if he was willing to be seen in the number of ridiculous costumes he chose. Admittedly, he did look like he felt a bit sheepish, as if he were just "going along with it all a bit reluctantly", but I really felt it may have been more of a "ok, this is the first night, I didn't know exactly how I'd feel doing this in front of a sold out theatre, now I do, and I've gotta go through with it" kind of air. Could I have done without all of the costumes and silliness? Absolutely, I've seen him many many times without it. But it was different, it was fun, it was Todd being his silly self - trying to show us a side that ISN'T angry and rebellious for a change. I didn't catch any of the anger that night - he didn't break strings and although some of his bandmates may have lost their way a few times - I couldn't detect any huge frustration. But then again, maybe I was too far away and that's what the back row of the floor'll getcha.

Jeff said...

Hey Sal -- off topic but I just re-read your Smithereens 11 post from HuffPo and wondered... have you ever found any concert recordings from this period? I'd love to hear some live versions of 11 songs (besides A Girl Like You!). All I've found online is a Green Thoughts tour show from '88.

cmealha said...

$125! That's a down payment on the Beatles box sets. If nothing else it's nice to see how many people have chimed in on Todd. That's means they've been affected by him at some point.

ianbui said...

I only saw Akron #1 and #2, so I can't speak for the Stamford or any other shows. For me, the first night was truly magical, glitches and all. I was moved. I had goosebumps. I had laughs. The costumes enhanced my appreciation for those songs which I know so well, and for Todd too, seeing how hard he had to work to pull it all off. Maybe I'm not as spoiled, or don't have as high expectations, as others, but I felt I got my money's worth, and more. This performance was originally scheduled for only one show, not a mini-tour that it turned out to be. So, count your blessings and be thankful that it even came to your town AT ALL!! We had to drive 1200 miles (each way) to see this, but you won't hear a word of complaint from me.

Anonymous said...

Sal claimed, "Todd grew angrier..." and "he's had a chip on his shoulder."

Why the need for the lame pop psychology 101 crap? Your review was fine for what it was. But in the comments section you go off track and start to ascribe intentions to the performer which are complete conjecture on your part and you claim some insight into his emotional state which you do not have.

You gave a mixed review of the concert. You seem to think you would have enjoyed "I Don't Want To Tie You Down" better had Todd been wearing some other outfit. Seems odd to me, since the song sounded great to me. What type of shoes was he wearing at the time? Would a wingtip be a sign of respect for the music? Perhaps a leather boot? Not flip flops, surely that would have been an insult to the AWATS album and all fans.

I enjoyed the show. And found the outfits to be amusing and not at all distracting. I've always enjoyed Todd's sense of humor. I got my money's worth. Of course, I didn't pay $125 for my ticket but I would be able to say the same thing had I paid that same amount.

I do not think there was anything half-assed in his performance. I also believe the costume changes were an attempt to do something special.

You don't agree. But please leave the nonsense about TR being angry out of the conversation. I saw all the tours you named and did not witness the anger you speak of. Hell, the Pod tour was one big TR rave. He looked like he was having a blast up there, as did the fans who joined him throughout the night on that tour.

Other than the guitar tech issues, it also appeared to me that Todd was enjoying himself in Stamford. And from a glance around the crowd from the cheap seats in the upper section, so too were most fans.

MikeB said...

If you think that Todd only "half assed" this AWATS tour, you really don't know a thing.
Anyone who was disappointed with this show - whether it was because you shelled out $125 instead of going for the $50 cheap seats - or because you've not been pleased with his stuff for years - should have just stayed home. This was a one-in-a-lifetime (or 7 times if you include the 7 shows being done) opportunity. Go read my review at the TRConnection.

Sal Nunziato said...

Ian, Anon, and Mike B.

There is no artist I love and respect more than Mr.Todd Rundgren. I've seen the man on every tour since 1975, sometimes 3, 4 and 5 nights in a row.

My review was honest. Your comments about me are no different than my comments about Todd, except you know less about me than I know about Todd.

What kind of fan just accepts everything? How could someone claim to have a passionate view about music and simply just accept something or bad?

I would not have missed this tour for the world. And if I paid $20 or $300...and I WOULD have, I called it as I saw it.

As for my "lame pop psychology 101 crap," I defended Todd's anger at the missing guitar tech in the 6th paragraph.

But I will not defend his visible frustration with the mishaps and miscues. I'm glad you loved it and had a great time.

I had a great time. I just didn't love it.

Sal Nunziato said...

And ANON, your snide comments about wing-tips and flip-flops makes no sense. If the costumes didn't matter, why wear any at all? I would have preferred hearing Todd's voice project during International Feel, and not muffled underr a space suit. I would have preferred a blistering guitar solo at the end of "Just One Victory," and not a full minute of awkwardness as he tried to get the guitar strap over his winsgs. And yes, I would have preferred seeing Todd sing "I Don't Want To Tie You Down," NOT dressed like Snuffleuppaguss.

You are quick to criticize my criticism, but in doing so you fail to mention how much respect I gave the music.

darnie said...

In your e-mail you say:

CONCERT REVIEWS of Sid N Susie (aka/ Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs) and Todd Rundgren's big "A Wizard/A True Star" extravaganza. (Check out the comments. Todd fans hate me.)

Todd fans hate you? Your just a reviewer,and giving yourself a bit too much credit for your opinion.
Get over yourself.

Sal Nunziato said...

It was suppposed to be funny. But thanks for pointing out what I am. And you are?

Marcia said...

What the eff? I thought we were talking about the Todd Rundgren show here. The nasty remarks in the last comments are so nonsensical and defensive, you'd think this was a discussion about the need for a gov't health insurance plan! I don't see anything wrong with the review- it was honest, unedited, and most importantly, the blogger's own opinion. Are you trying to change his mind? I know Sal. That's never going to happen. He calls 'em as he sees 'em. If you want to see in print that the show was flawless, go sugarcoat your own blog!

ianbui said...

I thought this was a very good review, as the reviewer told it as he saw it. I just didn't see it the same way in some cases, such as in "I Don't Want To Tie You Down". For me the purple habit worked perfectly for those lyrics, e.g. "Oh Jesus, I don't want to nail you down..." which happens to be my favorite line in this song. And to hear it live the first time in this subdued setting was revelatory. The photo that was posted clearly violated the no-flash rule, because in the low-light setting of the live performance, one wouldn't even know the color of his garb (I certainly didn't at the time!) At any rate, it's good to know that Todd still matters and still can generate such passionate debates among fans. Still there is more... Peace!

Sal Nunziato said...

Thanks Ian. I appreciate the follow-up and the intelligent commentary.

For the record, I used my flash once, at the very top of the show, and the photo was horrible. I have a great camera, and no flash was used for any of the pics posted. But, about half the balcony had violated the no-flash rule for the entire show.

darnie said...

Sal when I read your comment I thought what a strange thing to think that people "hate" you....Oh, you were joking, who knew.
I don't take offense to your opinion to which you are entitled, it's your blog.

Diane BW said...

WOW- I wondered how Todd played in my home state of CT - I didn't even go close to my NOW home to see AWATS- I was on plane to San Francisco the night he played in Bethesda, Maryland (09/10/09) - My OHIO husband refuses to see Todd these days (we both have seen him a lot since the 1970's) - you are saying it... SLOPPY (I know it!!) - come on -we love Todd (my 2nd son has his name) and what gives - is it another year for him to pay taxes with our money? LOL - Diane in Annapolis, MD