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.