Monday, February 27, 2012
Todd Rundgren's Unpredictable Evening At City Winery
I saw Todd Rundgren last night. I got home just as Meryl Streep was giving her Best Actress acceptance speech. She joked a bit about how the first thing that came to her mind upon hearing her name called, was how the world would deliver a collective groan and think, "Oh no! Not Her again." Then she shrugged it off and said, "But whatever. This is probably the last time I'll be up here." I guess the older one gets, the opportunities to do what you do best become infrequent, so you might as well revel in the successes as they come.
I haven't yet seen "The Iron Lady," so I don't really know how good Meryl was as Margaret Thatcher. I imagine it was her usual riffing on an accent, which when nailed, is some of the best riffing in the game. But as I was saying....I saw Todd Rundgren last night.
It was Night One of Todd's City Winery residency, which is being called "An Unpredictable Evening With...." For those who have seen Rundgren as many times as I have, beginning as early as 1975, you know "unpredictable" doesn't necessarily mean, "Now I'd like to do Side Two of "Runt." It can, especially in later years, mean 3 songs in a row with flubbed lyrics.
But not last night.
The shows are being billed as "semi-acoustic," but there were two electric guitars on stage, an electric bass and a drum kit. The approach was a bit lighter in sound, with the band casually seated, and yet, just as heavy as a classic Rundgren performance can be. The most "unpredictable" thing about the night was Rundgren's demeanor. As my friend Lesley pointed out, "It's been years since I've seen him this relaxed. It was like he really wanted to be there...like he was really having fun." She was right. That alone made "Night One" an absolute joy.
There were some "unpredictable" tunes, as well. It's been a long time since full (sort of) band versions of Utopia faves like "Lysistrata" and "One World" were played. Same can be said for the cover of ? & The Mysterians "96 Tears," which Utopia covered in the 80s. It was also a nice surprise to see Todd at the piano for near-perfect versions of "Too Far Gone" & "Compassion." Even more of a surprise was just how much I loved the cover of Lorne Greene's "Endless Prairie." Unlike Todd's recent and somewhat relentless setlisting of Red Rider's "Lunatic Fringe," this oddball choice didn't feel forced or lazy. It'd be easy to complain, like some impatient bar patrons behind me, about how that slot would have been better utilized with a "hit." But I can honestly say, seeing our boy enjoy himself with Kas and Jesse and Greg (?) and especially those in attendance, was much more satisfying to me than another take on "Hello It's Me." And given the opportunity, I wouldn't swap the Lorne Greene cover out.
There were some "hits," like the bossa nova version "I Saw The Light," which I prefer over the pop version only because Todd spares us the maniac cackle after the line, "It's not something that I say in jest." "Black & White" from 1976's "Faithful" rocked while one of the most stunning versions of "I Don't Want To Tie You Down," from "A Wizard/A True Star" made me understand just why I keep coming back time and time again to see this man perform.
Rundgren looked good, younger even, and his voice was about as perfect as you'd want it be, with his falsetto clean, natural and unforced. One more "unpredictable" moment which was also the last, was when Todd Rundgren sat at the piano one more time for a version of "Hawking," a song about Stephen Hawking that has been blowing my mind since it was released on 1989's "Nearly Human" almost 25 years ago. This is a vocal tour de force, and lately Todd has been nailing it while playing the guitar. This was the first time I'd seen him attempt this on solo piano. If not for one hiccup on the last verse, which snapped me out of my euphoria almost long enough to mind, this performance of "Hawking" might have been the most powerful since it's debut.
Like Meryl Streep, I imagine Todd Rundgren has begun to feel mortal. He is human, after all. Maybe he's not sure how much longer he'll be up there. And just maybe, that feeling is the linchpin to a new approach in his career, one where he takes it a day or even a minute at a time. He did point out early on, "Unpredictable could either mean, this will be a night you will relish forever or one you will regret for the rest of your life." I have no regrets about last night. This was Todd Rundgren the way I want him.