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.)


misospecial said...

been listening to this all morning. joyous, playful, wildly ambitious... if this gets across 20 percent of what it was like to be at these shows, i'm eternally grateful for the recording and eternally grieving i didn't get to one in the flesh.

maybe all that wrangling in the business (not to mention the complexities of a personal life) just took the piss out of him. he took so many beatings—from bearsville, from warner, etc etc. i hate to think some vital part of his joy was extinguished, but i'm still amazed he's standing and occasionally doing work at the caliber of the liars tour, and the arena tour, too.

anyway, this is fantastic stuff. it will be in heavy rotation in my house for a while.

The Walking Dead Man (TWDM) said...

I was lucky enough to see this tour...the venue was the infamous Hammerjack's concert hall in Baltimore. I recall quite clearly Todd pulling out a conductor's baton to direct "the orchestra" and commenting wryly "I'm pretty sure this is the first time you have seen one of these in here."

The show was fantastiv

Noam Sane said...

Awesome. I saw this tour when it stopped in Poughkeepsie, NY. If I remember correctly, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel opened, which would have been worth the price alone.

There's something about the human voice, in harmony, that can really touch your soul - the way other instruments cannot. "Lost Horizon" has always been my favorite song from this album, I recognized it as a Marvin Gaye cop right away, and so was unsurprised - yet delighted - to see him pair it with a couple of Marvin's most famous numbers.

Really special show, I'll enjoy this. Was unaware of this boot...thanks once again Sal.

Mr. Long Island said...

I saw this show at the Beacon Theatre. "Real Man" never sounded better. At one point the voices came together and it felt as if I were in church, having a religious experience. Let's put it this way: I plan to have my family play this version of "Love is the Answer" at my funeral as my eulogy.

Sal Nunziato said...

Noam, Not sure if this is a boot. These (there were 7-8 in the "Todd Archive" series) were available commercially and can still be gotten for high prices on Amazon.

Hmmm...maybe I'll get to posting the whole series.

Michael said...

admittedly, i say this from a point of view of relative ignorance, but I wonder if Bearsville thinks better of their obstinance now. I can't name any other Bearsville act. Maybe they were conglomerate-owned and it really didn't matter anyway?

Thanks for this! I love A Capella and this is a real treat. I've wished for a long time I had attended a Todd show from this era.