Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Live "State" Of Todd Rundgren

The most consistent thing about seeing Todd Rundgren perform live for almost 40 years is the inconsistency. Much like his recorded output, you never know who or what will show up and the surprise is not always welcome.

The loyalists will no doubt recall the worst examples when the man would barely show up and unapologetically flub lyrics and chords. It was painful. Then there were the pleasant surprises when our man was focused, singing like the Todd of old, and generally acting like he wanted to be there as much as we did.

Last night's performance at NYC's Gramercy Theatre was the latter. This was a show where the performer was focused and clearly seemed to be enjoying himself. His voice was in fine form and there was little to complain about. The problem? It may have been the first time where he wanted to be there more than we did.

I'll wrap this up as I know the non-Todd fan reader eye-rolling is probably in slot-machine mode by this point.

Todd Rundgren's "State" is a low point in a very long career. I find it mostly unlistenable, and unlike some of the more devoted followers, I can't just pretend it's good and offer pats on the back. I see no point. I don't want to make excuses. Love is NOT the answer this time. What is being passed off as innovative was innovative 20 years ago.

For 100 minutes last night, the packed house was treated(?) to a very loud and uncomfortable and awkward "dance party." It was a throbbing mess, with a highlight or two among the cacophony and temple-splitting strobe lights.  People cheered, because that's what Todd fans do. But people also left, confused and disappointed.

I hope this crisis will soon be over. It's not too late to begin aging gracefully.


soundsource said...

go back and listen to the song of the week it will make you feel better

A walk in the woods said...

Sal, I have "State" - the bonus-disc version, which is sweet b/c it has the Metropole show from last year as a bonus - and I just don't think it's that bad.

I like Todd's electronica. Have you heard Todd's "Rolling Down to Old Maui" from the "Son Of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys" album? It's the weirdest track on that long album, perhaps, because instead of this:

Todd heard the electronica version he plopped on that otherwise kind of dour, furrowed-brow album.

Sure, "In My Mouth" from "State" isn't going to make my "best of Todd" mixes... but "Something From Nothing" will, and "Imagination" and "Sir Reality" too.

Now, I'll say this... when I saw him on that 1994 tour where he had no band and did all electronica, including lots of pre-recorded music and samples, I had the reaction that you did last night. I thought it sucked. But looking at a video of it on YouTube ( and thinking back on it, I'd actually love to go back and relive it. It had a freshness to it that I wish, say, the Stones would think about.

Sal Nunziato said...

@Walk In The Woods

I won't reveal the amount of times I've seen Todd live. It's embarassingly high. I'm also going to spare anyone reading, the lengths I've gone through defending the man.

But I'm not buying "State." Not musically, not as an idea and sorry, but not as something innovative and fresh. It isn't. Of course there are many who will genuinely like it. I am just not one of them.

cmealha said...

Why do you do this to yourself?

ASH On The Beat said...

I'm with you Sal. I bought the deluxe for The Metropole.

The album is dismal and for the first time in nearly three decades, he's coming to the UK and I won't be going.

By all means try something new, but State isn't new, he's just bragging because he's got a new piece of software.

Like you, I remember plenty of hard times with him in the past, but they seem to pale into insignificance compared to State.

I can sum it up by saying it's twice as bad as Johnson.

cmealha said...

Oh crap!. I've read the rest of the comments and now see that I have to buy the "State" deluxe version because of the Metropole show. Damn!

Sal Nunziato said...

@cmealha I told you about that Metroplole disc two months ago. I think you ignored me because of my aversion to Mayer Hawthorne

Gene Oberto said...

You warned me and I can see from the post you were (unfortunately) spot on. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief when I pass the posters rather than go through the misery of "should I or shouldn't I.

As always, I bow to your expertise.

cmealha said...

And let's not forget the whole Gary Clark Jr. thing. Seriously, where my memory used to be like swiss cheese, it is now a black hole into which everything is irretrievably lost forever. Thanks for trying.

steves said...

Man, this album sounds so bad, I almost want to hear it.


buzzbabyjesus said...

I tried to like it just so I could argue with Sal, but he's right, it's awful. He really needs Andy Partridge to set him straight.

Noam Sane said...

Not a big fan of the new record but there is some fun stuff there that I'll pull off for my Todd comps.

Saw the show in Philly over the weekend and it was a techno-glitch nightmare. Tracks skipped, or stopped completely. He picked up his guitar twice, played a note or two, frowned and shook his head, and put it back down (essentially he played no guitar at all...the only "instrument" he played was some kind of weird pad that made random bleeps and bloops). The odd over-the-head mic kept cutting in and out. The first half of "Prime Time" found Prarie Prince out-of-sync with the backing track.

And the encore could not have been any more perfunctory - "Can We Still," "I Saw the Light," and "Hello..." sung by Todd, alone on stage, backed by horrid pre-fab techno-style tracks.

All the same, we smiled throughout because it's Todd and we love him and we were rooting for him. Tickets were only $29 (plus, of course, another $10 per-ticket bullshit charge from the venue)...and honestly...I'd probably go again.

He's touring an "Evening with Todd Rundgren" later in the summer that hopefully will offer some redemption for folks like you who are disappointed with this.

Sal Nunziato said...

I probably don't need to say this, but I will feel better if I do.

I'm sure you've gleaned from these pages, I am not one of those fans who needs to hear Hello It's Me or Can We Still Be Friends.

I am also open to anything Todd wants to try. "Liars" is hardly philly pop and soul, and neither is A Capella, yet both fall into my top 10, with Liars in my Top 5.

This tour and record just seems like a huge misfire. I find it unpleasant.

I will be at one or two of the upcoming "Evening With" shows, even though I know it will be exactly like the last "Evening With" shows, with the same flubs and stale jokes. I am a fan.

Did you see the recent interview in Uncut?

They asked Todd, "analogue or digital." He basically said, "I don't care as long as it's convenient."

That's my problem in a nutshell.

zan said...

I just recently started listening to Todd (about three years back), and got pretty die-hard into his music and friendly with the Todd fan community. I've especially enjoyed coming to your site and seeing frequent and well thought-out critical analyses of Todd's music.

The response to this album has been fascinating to me. People are really precious about What Kind Of Todd They Love, aren't they? It's what I find most fascinating about him. I have Todd friends who only like the early Utopia stuff, Todd friends who are only into AWATS, and Todd friends who are all "Be Nice To Me" or bust. I even have a friend who swears the Second Wind tour was Todd as his best.

I had the benefit of coming to Todd later, mostly through YouTube videos, once he had a vast variety of musical genres in his pocket, and while I didn't necessarily love them all at first, and I understand that what will last are the real genius moments, what I came to love for the long haul was the variety. And the hilarity. This album certainly has both.

I completely understand and respect that some people won't like this album, but I feel lucky; because I came to Todd through a million different avenues, and with little expectation, I get to enjoy it for what it is: a bizarre little time capsule of What Kind Of Todd He Feels Like Being Today. It's not perfect, about half of the album I could do without, and these aren't the songs that will live forever on my Top Ten Todd, but there are moments of real beauty, and there are stand-out tracks, and most importantly, it feels really fun, and if people go to the shows willing to dance and move and just have a big ol' Todd Party, it will be a fun show. (Techno versions of his hits? Come on, that is hilarious AND fun. Who does that? Todd, that's who.)

It's this last part I'm worried about. I fear that so many fans will be there holding on to their ideal of What Kind Of Todd They Love, that their expectations will keep them stuck in place, and it will just be a bunch of people standing in a room watching some guy have a party on his own on a stage (though I'll be there too).

To be honest, I'm happy for the people who aren't into the album to stay at home. I understand their disappointment, but I feel lucky that I won't let myself be disappointed. Because it's all a part of the Great Todd Continuum.

I know it's silly to call Todd Rundgren "God" just because it rhymes, but at this point, with this album, what I really want to say to everyone is "Let Go, Let Todd."

Anonymous said...

Instead of word for word copying out Zan's comment, i'll just say i completely agree and i'm looking forward to seeing him tonight. Interesting to see the perspectives of people that have been listening to him for decades, and people like myself who have discovered him recently.