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
Lady Face
Dust in the Wind
Utopia Theme
Freak Parade
Another Life
The Ikon
Heavy Metal Kids
Set Me Free
The Wheel
Do Ya
The Last Ride
Freedom Fighters
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)


misospecial said...

thanks, sal, very nice piece on an extraordinary event, equally privilege and thrill to have witnessed. there were so many emotions swirling both onstage and off: friends and lovers who met at shows 40s years ago, colleagues who experienced their peak creative experience with this band in the mid-'70s, the intensity of moogy's focus on having this moment after all these years. if nothing else, to see moogy's anger and bitterness fade away in the face of love and friendship would have been amazing. and we also saw virtuosic performances of staggeringly difficult material, done with joy. this was one for the ages.

RR Doug said...

Nice review of a fantastic show! I'm really looking forward to seeing the Video on Demand from the second show this Wednesday night.

Anonymous said...

This reunion has been requested by the fans who recognized the music's importance years ago and were sad when Todd shifted directions.The vision of this band was ahead of it's time and unfortunately,not as widely accepted as it deserved.Moogy Klingman's health concerns finally got everyone to put their issues behind them and come together for these 2 nights of passionate performing.This music was always about diversity of vision,personal freedom,confrontation and having the heart to stand by your convictions(and friends).The stage was set years ago for this unlikely reunion .Once again Todd has shown us the light of the world,stepping beyond personal agendas and doing what is right.Maybe,just maybe this will be 'Just One Victory' that makes the difference for Moogy!

Albert said...

Sorry for the disgusting imagery, but I could only imagine what a cream-dream this must have been for you.....this late in the day, you can probably appreciate what you heard and saw much more than if you were there 37 years ago...not so much that you're older, but you can stack it up against the myriad Todd shows you've seen...must be near the top of the list....amen.

Rob said...

Hey Sal. Wish I could have been there but will just have to do with the webcast on wed. Any chance you'll be doing an audio rip at some point as with Todd/Healing? that would be much appreciated. Cheers.

Noam Sane said...

I had not heard about this. Such are the perils of living in the sticks. If I had to find out afterward, at least I heard it from you, Sal.

Will look forward to seeing the video.

Allow me to recommend "A Wizard, A True Star: Todd Rundgren in the Studio" for some great background on the Todd/Moogy relationship, as well as lots of great nuggets from Todd's various productions over the years, a fine read.

Sal Nunziato said...

Read it Noam. Really enjoyed it. Thanks, as always.

FRANCIE said...


Anonymous said...

Sal .. you couldn't have said it better!! Without much practice on Tod Rundgren's Part they Pulled it off like Magic Yhat music is very demanding indeed, and yet Todd did very well considering.. Sal you might be the same Sal who is friends with my very good friend Joe Megna. He couldn't make it up here, as he now lives in SC, and just got back from Record Fantasy Camp with TR.

Many Tanks for this On the Money Interview..

We are fortunate a VOD came through for this..And I sure hope the Love & The Vibes in the Room will deeply connect with Moog and make a Big Difference in his Healing Process . Thanks for Pinning this concert with your s Great Article !! XO <3 :) Love, Cherry R.

Sal Nunziato said...

Cherry, yes I am Joe Megna's friend. Though it has been awhile. I had no idea he was in SC. Hopefully, the VOD of the Highline will be better the Fantasy Camp.

Runt Fan said...

Sal... real nice review about a show I had no idea was happening. Will they possibly tour anywhere else??

If you can possibly post the audio after the concert... you would have a lot of grateful people here. Thanks for all you do!

Fab said...

Cool... and nice comments by you misospecial, I always enjoy your posts -- and your blog also.

Michelle Galerkin said...

Sal, you captured every necessary detail in this review of the show and the emotional content of the crowd. We had expectations and yearnings for the magic of so long ago and of course, it was additionally fueled with our compassion for Moogy and the present state of his health and our desire to heal through our strong support of this reunion. The place was shoulder-to-shoulder, the energy as high as Akron (though I wasn't there) and the reward was immeasurable, because it had a different meaning for each and every fan. Personally, I saw the original lineup of Utopia on March 1, 1974 at Miami Beach Auditorium and this set off my devotion. I hadn't missed Todd in any of his musical incarnations on any year in any city I was living in for all these years. That singular night rocked my world and plunged me into a silent and powerful place for my own healing. Todd took me through all the traumatic and beautiful moments of my life as a single person, a married, then divorced woman, and through the birth and raising of my son. It was always there, prominently in my daily life and now in 2011, I was being rewarded by the beloved boys on stage once again. Too much to handle. The notes of certain songs went straight to my heart and memory and brought me to tears. I knew it would.

For fans who hadn't ever seen Utopia, I was over the moon....knowing they would be blown away. What made the greatest impact wasn't totally the music, presented as close to the original as possible, but it was the emotional bond and openness of spirit on the part of Todd, the band and fans that seemed to be infusing the most powerful energy of healing to Moogy, who was openly receiving the love. I haven't witnessed this ever before in my life. This wasn't "lip service" this was REAL! Palpable!Kind and loving beyond words! Very poignant. Moogy is so are WE!

Thank you for capturing what this beautiful set of evenings was all about. This was the singular highlight of my Rundgren world. My dream goes on!