Monday, January 31, 2011
"We've Been Waiting So Long" : Todd Rundgren's Utopia Reunites
It's been 35 years since Todd Rundgren, Moogy Klingman, John Siegler, Ralph Schuckett and Kevin Ellman shared a stage together as Utopia. When I first got word of the reunion, I couldn't help but think "trainwreck." I feared the musical mess that is often the result of hasty planning and under-rehearsing, not to mention the degree of difficulty of the material. (Would the band attempt the 34 minute epic "The Ikon," or would they serve up an hour of bad covers and blues jams?)
It should not go unmentioned that co-founder and keyboardist Moogy Klingman is sick, and fighting the hardest battle of his life. Prior to his prognosis, his hardest battle may have been the ongoing moratorium on the Todd/Moogy friendship; a friendship that began over 40 years ago, and then at some point, soured in the eighties. But friends will be friends, and this Utopia reunion would indeed include our fearless leader, under bittersweet circumstances of course.
I hadn't seen Moogy since I closed my record store in 2005. Moog was a regular and our conversations were always peppered with his fantastic stories about Todd, Bette Midler, the President (past or present), and whatever seemed to be bothering him at the time. If you know Moog, that could be a number of things. I do know he had long hoped for a night like this.
Moogy came out first and warmed up his fingers with a keyboard introduction that segued beautifully into "Never, Never Land," and Todd's first appearance. As one friend said, "From Todd's first note, you can tell that this was going to be a tender performance." Though his illness changed his physical appearance, Moogy's face was still the same, less the 'stache. It was hard not to be moved.
The band took the stage soon after, and to say they delivered would be an understatement. "Dust In The Wind," "Utopia Theme," Freedom Fighters," "Freak Parade," "The Last Ride," "The Wheel," "Another Life (for Pete's sake)," and yes, "The Ikon." (Some of it, anyway.) I simply couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. Todd's presence may have sold out the Highline Ballroom for two shows, but it was Moogy and the band's night. No doubt.
I was surprised by Todd's voice. It sounded young and with purpose.
I was surprised by John Siegler's bass playing. Could he have gotten better? The sound of his bass cut through perfectly, having an almost Jaco-type presence.
I was surprised by Kevin Ellman. The drum kit was smaller and he was not quite as busy. But man, he still had the chops and consistently found the pocket.
(Hey Ralph! I love ya, but I just couldn't see or hear you from where I was standing. Talk to the giant in the duster coat whose torso was the size of my entire body, and who refused to stand behind me.)
And the man of the hour? Moogy Klingman? This was his night. He directed the band, was in good voice, and his playing was flawless. It was as if you could see him healing in front of your eyes.
The biggest surprise of the night?
No one phoned it in. No one.
There were flubs, sure. But as another friend said, "Even the flubs had soul." Besides, you try singing "Freak Parade." I tried this morning and almost toppled over. As I said, difficult material with a short amount of preparation, does not perfection make. But Saturday came close.
The band finished with "Just One Victory" and "Sons Of 1984," and it was triumphant, a truly emotional performance from old friends, for new friends. Moogy thanked everyone and was visibly shaken while thanking those who came by the hospital to visit during such a painful time. As he wiped his tears away, Todd quipped, "Okay John Boehner, let's play some music." And with that, everyone joined in for Moogy's hit, "Ya Gotta Have Friends."
Here is the full set list:
Never Never Land
Crying in the Sunshine
Dust in the Wind
Heavy Metal Kids
Set Me Free
The Last Ride
Just One Victory
Sons of 1984
For those interested, last night's performance was filmed for a Pay Per View webcast. Here is the link:
(Photos & Video of Utopia 2011, courtesy of Michael Adrian)