Monday, July 5, 2010
Todd On Monday : The 11-Voice Orchestra
Today's post isn't just for Todd Rundgren fans.
Let's start with a question--
Can you name your 5 favorite concerts of all time?
I'm sure it isn't easy, but off the top of my head, Elvis Costello's 5 nights on Broadway in 1986 still remain the most memorable for me. (I will elaborate on a future post, accompanied by audio highlights.)
Then there was this. Billed as Todd Rundgren & His 11 Voice Orchestra, TR took a show on the road to promote his oft-delayed and finally released 1985 album "A Cappella."
Here's Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AMG:
A Cappella was the end of the road, as far as Bearsville was concerned. Rundgren, who was already at odds with the label and had taken his Utopia elsewhere, had to struggle to get the label to release the record, and it didn't hit the shelves officially until Warner stepped in and negotiated him out of the contract. Perhaps Bearsville didn't want to release A Cappella because they perceived it to be too weird, too bizarre to cross over into the mainstream, which is true. However, that thread of logic ignores the fact that ever since 1973, Rundgren had positioned himself as a cult artist. He may have proven himself to be an enormously successful cult artist, one capable of landing the odd hit single every now and then, but he remained a cult artist precisely because he was willing to take risks like A Cappella, an album he created entirely with his voice. To some listeners, such a tactic seemed like a gimmick, which is a fair criticism, since the compositions themselves don't necessarily explore new ground (he even throws in the requisite novelties and covers). Then again, the production and the recording are precisely the point of A Cappella, and that's why it's such an involving listen. Many times, it's hard to believe that all of the sounds on the record originated from the same larynx, since each layer of the production is filled with astonishing details. Even more impressively, by forcing himself to use just his voice (albeit electronically processed), Rundgren has devised fresh, unexpected arrangements that enliven a set of solid but unrevelatory songs. That inventive spirit is enough to turn A Cappella into something unique and special.
Unlike recent live performances, Todd seemed focused, rehearsed and in a very good mood, using the voices to recreate the songs off the new record, as well as adding a new dimension to old favorites. As one friend put it, "It was the last time I felt the Todd intensity in concert."
The music here is not from NYC's Beacon Theatre, which is where I got to experience this incredible performance, but from an out of print, kind of official, Japanese release capturing the Dallas show from 10/31/85.
Erlewine's review is right on the money, though I'd like to add that songs like "Johnee Jingo," "Honest Work," the single "Something To Fall Back On," which should have been a monster hit, and the absolutely stunning "Pretending To Care" are some of the best of Rundgren's career.
(And don't forget to check out "SELLING WOOD," the new blog for those who miss the thrill of the record store. Just click on my flaming face in the upper right hand corner.)