Sunday, July 3, 2011

Todd Rundgren's All "Possible Requests" Show

I caught Todd Rundgren and his band at the Tarrytown Music Hall this past Friday. Saddled with a summer cold, it was hard to tell at times whether Todd wanted to just get the hell off the stage because of how he was feeling, or if there was something else going on within the band. I found the overall vibe to be a bit unsettling, though to his credit, between amplified noseblows and hairy eyeballs directed more than a few times at various band members, Todd's performance was hardly a throwaway. As a matter of fact, if I wasn't squirming so much over what his next move was going to be, I may have put this show up there with some of the best.

Todd set us straight 2 songs in.

"We don't take requests. But we will do songs that you might have requested." Then, he kicked into "Kind Hearted Woman," from his recent Robert Johnson tribute CD, a song that I would not have requested even if threatened with root canal. But you know what, it kicked ass, with Rundgren continuing his renaissance on the electric guitar, and he did offer the disclaimer that he didn't want to piss off the record company by not promoting "Todd Rundgren's Johnson" just a little. 

What came next is what made me edgy.

It seemed as if there was some inter-band squabbling going on. Rundgren's buttons seemed to be getting pushed a bit too often. At one point, Prairie's snare snapped, and Todd didn't care. He wouldn't wait for the drum tech to change it, he just launched into "Determination," which sucked, because he's rarely if ever done that song live, and now I finally get to see it and Prairie's playing it with one hand.

Then, a few songs later, though I forget which, someone hit a note that our fearless leader was less than happy with, and he shot a look at keyboardist John Ferenzik. Kas stepped up to the plate and said to Todd, "It was me! It was me!" But none of this seemed playful. Todd then rubbed his fingers together as if to say, "That's coming out of your pay" and Kas just said, "Okay. Okay." No smiling at all.

There had been a running joke about how the band was unable to nail an intro, so a number of times, they launched into the false start opening of "Hello It's Me," teasing the crowd, only to play some other song instead. But, I don't believe this playful addition to the set had anything to do with what I just described, as too often throughout the night, Todd would exclaim, "Start the song already!" Or, "Let's go!" It was like being invited to a family gathering, only to be in the middle of some bitter argument between Aunt Tessie and Uncle Phil. Hard to enjoy the pot roast. Know what I mean?

That said, there were more than a few, simply stunning moments at this performance. While Todd's speaking voice sounded a bit tired and hoarse, his singing showed no signs of that at all. As a matter of fact, I can't remember the last time Todd nailed his vocals on just about every song in the set.

Old faves like "Real Man" and "Love Of The Common Man" were given the "Nearly Human" arrangements, while others like "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You," were played "with a twist," resurrecting the bossa nova arrangements of 1997. It all worked well, and Todd seemed determined to deliver these songs, as well as such long lost faves as "Lucky Guy" and "Love Is The Answer," rather than just toss them off.

The highlight of the evening was what I am calling the single greatest performance of "Hawking" I have ever seen. I was frozen in my seat, as Todd seemed to put himself in a trance. It was the emotional powerhouse you know he has in him, but rarely displays these days.

This tour and set list is similar to the 1997, "With A Twist" tour.  Back then, I wasn't thrilled by the prospect of a collection of Rundgren songs rearranged for bossa nova. But, time has been kind to that record, and listening back to a show from NYC's Irving Plaza, I realize that Rundgren and his band, the same members on this current tour, put some time into those arrangements, and it was really much better than what I recall.

I have that show here for you below.  Maybe you'll dig it.

IRVING PLAZA, 11/26/97

I Saw The Light
Can We Still Be Friends
It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference
Zen Archer
Never Never Land
Love Is The Answer
The Individualist
Real Man
Lost Horizon
Eastern Intrigue
Can't Stop Running
Hello It's Me
Love Of The Common Man
There Goes My Inspiration
Lucky Guy
Born To Synthesize
AWATS Soul Medley
I Want You
America Drinks & Goes Home
A Dream Goes On Forever




Noam Sane said...

Well, of course I could not be at the show, so I very much appreciate this really fascinating review.

I note that he'll be in NYC on Wed, my birthday. Hmmmm.

Thanks Sal!

Sal Nunziato said...

Noam, Wednesday is sold out. I'm crushed. But I will try to get in...because I'm insane.

FRANCIE said...


A walk in the woods said...


Great review - my friends are always surprised when I give a tepid review to one of my favorites, but some people don't get that in a way it's easy because you expect the most from the artists you appreciate the most. So a perfect show/review can be a bit of an anomaly.

Thanks a lot for the Irving Plaza show too- downloading now! Cheers -

Anonymous said...

thanks sal......seeing him out here (so cal) in a couple weeks. i am undaunted (having seen him while I was suffering thru a kidney stone "attack" a few years back) as he can/could "make the pain go away".....

William Repsher said...

Actually, just as interested in the vintage Hermit of Mink Hollow ad you posted! Over the past few months, I find myself buying eight tracks. Not to play -- at this point, those things seem like relics of the 70s, keepsakes, the kind of thing I leave sitting around the apartment as a reminder of another time, just as evocative as any family photo. I'm not buying a lot -- less than half a dozen. But those ones that are burned in my mind as eight tracks I had as a young teen (Sleepwalker, Heaven Tonight, The Slider, etc.).

The kicker? It will have to be landing a copy of Hermit of Mink Hollow on E Bay. Of course, I'm tempted to plunk down $50 on one of those Panasonic hand-pump portable 8 track players ... but my memory is good enough to remember how bad they were.

Sal Nunziato said...


That ad is from an issue of Trouser Press with Todd on the cover.

Funny you mention "The Slider." My grandparents had an 8-track player, which my grandmother said had "the most beautiful sound." I had three 8 tracks as a kid-- "Abbey Road," "Mott," and "The Slider."

And just a few years ago, a friend gave me a sealed "Back To The Bars."

Paul said...

Sal, Thanks for the post and the attached show. I always enjoy your write ups and your candor. It took me a couple of spins of that album to appreciate it. It was a bold move on Todd's part, but listening to this show proves it was a refreshing move.

I was glad to see Kas is touring with him, especially since he lost his wife about a month ago or so. My good wishes go out to him.

Thanks again!!

John Baker said...

Thanks, both for the review and the earlier show. sounds like a very interesting time... Todd as James Brown, bandmaster... hmmm. Looking forward to hearing the earlier show, too. I haven't heard him live since right after "Todd" came out and was hoping to see him and Daryl Hall in Atlantic City ('cause Todd apparently "never comes up into the hills" where Daryl's House is... about a dozen miles from here...) Keep them coming and know you are appreciated!

Leon said...

Really enjoying this Todd show you posted, Sal - thanks man!!

misospecial said...

I loved this show, snotty kleenex, snotty comments, and all. Well, i didn't love the snot, physical and verbal, but the singing--that was something else. Since i only returned to Todd in a serious way about two years ago, i wondered if i would ever hear Hawking live. And to hear it so flawlessly, with such commitment, was kind of an ecstatic experience. I thought he killed with I Want You, too, another of those workhorse With a Twist arrangements. I remember back in '97 gazing at the cover pic, a slightly doughy Todd standing in water, and thinking "how lame, covers of his own stuff in half-baked bossa nova arrangements, how the mighty are fallen, etc etc," then succumbing to its charms. And here we are 14 years later, and those arrangements still sound fresh. With all his sins and peculiarities, he is almost singular in his ability to surprise; after all that phoning it in on the Johnson shows, in Tarrytown he played Johnson with no ironic detachment, he made it sting. A 63-year-old guy with a nasty cold sang as well as he did 20 years ago. So, do you think this show will get better as they do it more? Can the emotion stay authentic as the band tightens up? I'm going to try to make some of the September gigs and find out. Oh, last thing: more Utopia shows coming in October, but you probably knew that...