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
Never Never Land
Love Is The Answer
Can't Stop Running
Hello It's Me
Love Of The Common Man
There Goes My Inspiration
Born To Synthesize
AWATS Soul Medley
I Want You
America Drinks & Goes Home
A Dream Goes On Forever