Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Todd Is Godd...Again
I would imagine that for many readers, my (somewhat manageable) obsession with Todd Rundgren can occasionally be offputting. But I need to get this out of my system, so thank you for your indulgence.
I caught the man and his band in concert last night at the Brooklyn Bowl, located in Hipster Central, NYC. I don't have an exact number, but I have to believe last night was well over the 100th time I have seen Rundgren perform, dating back to the very first show at the Beacon Theatre in 1975. But unlike most of the shows in the 70's and 80's, which were heartfelt and energetic and in many cases, dare I say religious experiences, Rundgren seemed to grow tired of everything, including himself, and if you went to see him live in 90's and early 2000's, you were in for just about anything, and a lot of the time, it was not a good place to be. Flubbed lyrics and chords, strained vocals, unchanging setlists and painfully sad acoustic shows were not uncommon. Of course, it wasn't all bad. That gem of a show happened, as well, but if you bought a ticket, the time between your purchase and the first song of the performance was like waiting for your blood test results.
Rundgren's output was spotty, as well, and of course, there are differing opinions on what is good and what is not. For my purposes, 2004's "Liars" ranks as one of Todd's greatest achievements. Critically acclaimed, he must have been truly inspired because the tour of the same name was also one of his best. "Arena," his 2008 collection of rock originals didn't move me at first, but after seeing a half dozen shows on that tour, I realized how good the material was and it was only the crappy sound of the record that bothered me. I'm living with that now and "Arena" has become a late career favorite. Rundgren's mojo was back.
But since then, he has released what I believe is some of the worst music in his career, bad decisions in electronica that seem misguided. And while I avoided the tours that were specifically about those records, I did attend the "Evening With..." shows, and again (or still,) Todd's voice and guitar playing were still stronger than they had been in ages.
Oh yeah, back to last night.
This current string of concerts is billed as the "hits show," which as Todd puts it, is basically "the songs we think you want to hear in the exact arrangement you think you remember." Fair and accurate. But the difference between last night and some of his recent shows was that it felt like 1978 all over again. There was something in the air. He looked good, slimmed down. Gone were the snide remarks after every song or two. No more mocking the tunes he was tired of playing. This was a sincere show for the fans, played seamlessly with an energy that was shot from a cannon! The opening 1-2-3 punch of "I Saw The Light">"Love Of The Common Man">"Open My Eyes," is a set of songs that on paper would make an old horse like me yawn, but instead felt like I had never heard them before.
It continued for almost two hours, with more "hits" of course and the right choices for deeper tracks. Hearing both "Soul Brother" and "God Said," two slices of brilliance from the aforementioned "Liars," as well as both "Sometimes I Don't Know What To Feel" and the old Utopian National Anthem, "Just One Victory" from "A Wizard/A True Star" put me on a different planet.
Vocally, Rundgren sounded 25 again. The falsetto admittedly not as strong on another personal fave "Lost Horizon," but damn fine enough. And on songs like "Real Man" and the soul medley of "I'm So Proud/Ooh Baby Baby," Rundgren was preaching. The extended guitar solo to close out "Buffalo Grass" did not go unnoticed either. Can't recall seeing that happen since Central Park in 1977.
Yeah, I'm gushing. Apologies. But it's rare to see an artist this late in his career reproduce everything you loved from early in his career. This could well be a Top 5 show in a long history of live shows, and that is saying a lot.