AUTHOR’S NOTE: This review is extremely late in being posted as both the author and photographer have experienced a loss in the family and have been dealing with the associated responsibilities that accompany a family member flying from this earth. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused anyone.
Glenside PA – I will have to explain the two albums being played live by Rundgren and company at the Keswick Theater before we get into the review. The first is the self titled album Todd. It remains my favorite album by him to date. Starting out with some backwards masking (sounds played backward) of a voice asking for a little fanfare, it maintains a non-stop adventure right to the protracted fade of the last track, recorded live with a chorus of audience members from both coasts and mixed together (long before digital signal stretching in Pro-Tools) in one track.
The second album is a collection of songs pertaining to the science (?) of psychic healing. Side one of Healing deals with the voyage of one who is anointed with the power to heal, and the taxation of a greedy society, all clamoring for the healing touch. Trivia time: The bonus 7” vinyl that was included with the original 12” plastic waffle release was the single from the album called “Time Heals” and was the 7th original video aired on MTV’s broadcast debut.
There weren’t many videos to choose from then, and Rundgren and MTV are not the best of friends. Read on for more dish…
When MTV made its debut, Rundgren was pissed off at MTV as they outbid him for available channel space on a satellite launched for broadcast. Rundgren was hoping to acquire that channel in conjunction with a new video studio he had built from the revenue and points he had earned producing and (initially) bankrolling Meatloaf’s first album Bat Out Of Hell. Yes, it was Rundgren who initially paid the members of Bruce Springsteen’s E-street band to co-perform on the album with the members of Utopia.
I am always reminded of a story Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton (who plays bass and does vocals with Rundgren to this day) told about touring with Marvin Lee Aday (Meatloaf to the uninitiated), and Fatloaf being so out-of-shape that after his acrobatic performances, he would stumble off stage and pass out. The newcomer Sulton would always ask “Is he OK? Is he going to be alright?” That reminds me of another Sulton story, when Aday (or The Loaf) and songwriter Jim Steinman first entered Utopia studios to record their operatic rock and roll opus, Sulton looked at them and wondered “Who are these people? What are they doing here?”
Whenever I hear those damn songs in the doctor’s office, elevator or pancake house, I wonder what they were doing there. But then again, I wondered what Rundgren did producing Shaun Cassidy’s Wasp (a killer album featuring some Rundgren tunes as well as Who, Talking Heads, Eric Burdon and the Animals covers) and today I am wondering about a recent press release informing me that after this tour and the holidays, Rundgren will be producing Donny Osmond…
Back to the show at hand.
I have been let in on the inside, by someone who has attended one of the earlier shows, it seems at this point (I always write these intros a day or two before or in my seats at the show) like it will be a clusterfunk of poor judgment.
I envisioned Rundgren doing Healing first accompanied only by midi, his guitar and MAYBE some vocalists, as side two of Healing is a continuous song, “Healing 1,2 & 3” and is VERY mellow. Todd is a raucous collection of more ear-catching pop trips, pot boiling rock and roll songs, and experiments galore. The logical conclusion is that Rundgren would tempt the audience with a mellow, solo performance, and bring out the band for the explosive conclusion, climaxed (care for a cigarette?) by the audience participation song, the namesake for the webpage that contains all the info you might need about the shows, “Sons Of 1984”.
Gotta learn to lay off the assumptions. Because when you assume…
My source, Mark Blanc (you know him as former Goodz bandmate of mine) tells me that the album Todd comes first, leaving the a-fore mentioned “Sons Of 1984” last AFTER the entire Healing album. Hackneyed and haphazard, but that’s the way either Rundgren or event sponsor RundgrenRadio wants it. He attended the first show of the tour. If you read my last blog about the Alan Parsons show, the first show of the tour stigma was annihilated.
I can mention Parsons as he and Rundgren were bandmates along with Ann Wilson of Heart, and John Entwhistle of the Who in the Walk Down Abbey Road band of a few years ago. When my resident photographer and best thing to ever happen to me was chatting with Mr. Parsons’ sound person, he was not fully aware of the connection.
Few people are.
But I had labored under the delusion that first shows of the tour were often ill-rehearsed, poorly coordinated and weakly executed exercises in performance.
From what Mr. Blanc tells me, Rundgren maintained this myth during the first show of this tour. Flubbing piano parts (Rundgren was always confused as to why Playboy magazine would always vote him as one of the top ten keyboardists when they used to dally in such things), and the unusual arrangement of songs in the set list, again, clusterfunk.
As the topic of Healing might suggest, I have faith. I have faith that Rundgren is enough of a professional and perfectionist, and the members of the band are competent enough that they will pull things together by the time they roll into Glenside PA.
Let’s talk about the band (always fun).
Rundgren will play guitar and piano and (of course) vocals.
Sulton will play bass, keyboards and do vocals
Long time Rundgren and Tony Levin guitarist Jesse Gress will play guitar, keyboards and vocals.
Greg Hawkes of The Cars and The New Cars as well as being keyboardist for Rundgren’s A Wizard A True Star tour from last year, repeats his role as noisemaker for this tour.
Prairie Prince will be drumming, leaving his usual daytime gig as pounder for San Francisco humor-rock act The Tubes.
Lastly, and never least, Bobby Strickland on keyboards and various wind instruments brass, wood and electronic.
I guess the only thing to do is pick up the photo pass for my best thing to ever happen to me and wait for the action. We gotta bring you the photos…
We do arrive early, but the press passes are not prepared. I smell clusterfunk… We ran into the promoters as we arrived, and they informed us that there would be a pre-show gathering at the nearby Keswick Tavern.
On an aside, if you find yourself in Glenside PA and are hungry, I recommend stopping by the Tavern to fill yourself up as I ordered the burger, and this thing was the size of a small dog! As Laurie Anderson said during “Walk The Dog” from United States Parts 1-4 “Delicious food, uh-huh, interesting people, uh-huh, terrific music, uh-huh…” But the servers were a bit overwhelmed as they were busy running around amidst a sea of Todd Rundgren T-shirts.
Mr. Blanc arrived shortly after with his lovely wife, a first time Rundgren concert goer and cousin James. James brother, John, is an occasional contributor to this blog, contributing interview questions for Willie Wilcox, which to this day, remain unanswered.
Some of those T-shirts were filled with some very nice people Mr. Blanc introduced me to, a lot of them named Paul…
After what seemed like an interminable amount of delay, we decide to saunter over to the Keswick Theater to collect the photo pass and take our seats. What did I say about Clusterfunk? There is no photo pass prepared for my best thing to ever happen to me. As we camp in front of one of the ticketing windows, we are grilled about who we are, who authorized the photo pass, what is the angle of the cosign if the radius of the triangle is 74.8 degree, who directed “Once Upon A Time In Mumbai…”?
Once we were in the theater itself, we went through a series of ushers, who kept referring us further and further down towards the stage. We were seated by someone highly knowledgeable about the theater, its set-up, its history. The usher, named Steve, explained that the theater was set-up that the seats were numbered odd along the left side (facing the stage) even numbered along the right, and the center is numbered continually.
We took our seats in what amounted to be front row. I could have thrown wind at Rundgren and he would have felt it.
There are video cameras set up for the webcast. My best thing to ever happen to me has been advised as to where the cameras are and where and where not to shoot pictures from.
I spend my pre-show time conversing about non-mainstream music with Steve. It was an enthralling conversation about Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Cassidy, OLD Jefferson Airplane, and other acts of substance from the past.
As my best thing to ever happen to me is taking pictures of the mixing console, getting the lay-of-the-theater, some fat chick loudly proclaims as she walks by her empty seat, “Ooh, I should sit there” and I think to myself “you do and A) my best thing to ever happen to you will kick the crap out of you (former Tae Kwon Do Olympic hopeful), B) I will have security kick you out of the venue altogether.”
The rudeness did not stop there, more on THAT later.
Show time is near as the PA announcer makes a hysterical announcement that short of a dire catastrophe, we should place our heads between our knees and… The people around me, John, Beth and Kat are die hard fans and Kat’s favorite album is Healing. A kindred spirit, my favorite is Todd. Lights go down, we are ready to go. Melinda Cain and Doug Ford are interviewed for the webcast.
After a taped intro of the backward masking, the musicians push out their instruments like old people wheeling about in their walkers with wheels. The keyboards, the drum riser, all have casters on the bottom that lock into place to allow for mobility, flexibility and variety. Even Prince’s drum kit is mobile.
Rundgren comes out with a high collared overcoat. As Rundgren warbles the words to “I Think You Know”, Gress solos on top. As is on the LP. A flawless rendition, replete with Hawkes as noisemaker-in-residence and Strickland adds synth layers. Then Rundgren picks up the replica “Fool” SG and gets a wail or two in.
The band are attired in pseudo-psychedelic garb. Most likely crafted by Michelle Rundgren, another jack-of-all-trades. Singer, dancer, seamstress, mother, launderer, lover, daughter, and most likely more I don’t know about.
Once the opening track is done, all the instruments are pushed off stage, and an upright piano is wheeled in front of Rundgren and he hangs up the SG on the side of it and sits behind it. Pre-recorded tracks provide the studio excess of the original recording of “Spark Of Life”. His voice is effected to match the album track, and Sulton wanders out behind him.
Hawkes “Hoverounds” his keyboard out again, and Prince contributes drum hits as he is wheeled out from the side of the stage. Gress and Strickland are also added to the stage. While Prince has softened the attack of the drums with mallets, Gress solos to rival the original guitar track.
I wonder how the stage-crafters union feels about all these musician-staging-equipment activities?
Another one of those boom camera set-ups is present, this time it lives on stage left (facing). It hovers over Gress and Sulton. The dynamic builds right along with Gress’s solo, the more and more furious the track becomes, Rundgren smirks at Gress.
“An Elpee’s Worth Of Tunes” is performed as humorously as it can and Gress, who is just a vocalist at this point, and Bobby Strickland mime a game of Frisbee with a clear blue vinyl album. Adding to the hilarity and of no surprise to me, the boom conks Sulton on the head right before Rundgren exclaims “No no no, a little more humanity please.”
At the tavern previous to the show, I had a conversation with a woman (whose name I did not jot down, I am losing my touch) said she was at the Stamford AWATS show and was ducking the boom like I was. She is of above-average height so I could see her getting conked a couple of times. She was seated closer to the boom than I was and would have been a much easier target.
Rundgren’s voice is pitched up for the “help me” vocal (as was on the album) and pitched back down for the final line. He then chides the crew for not taking away the piano. He claims they will get it right before the end of the tour.
That’s only one more show in Morristown NJ so far, er…
“A Dream Goes On Forever” allows Sulton to play synth bass and midi or tape drums (however they played pre-recorded instruments, ProTools, etc.) and lets Prince do some standing scraper playing. Upon closer examination, Sulton is providing the main piano chordal structure and Hawkes is again playing noise-maker. A tight as hell ending.
Rundgren stands as conductor for “Lord Chancellor’s Nightmare Song” by Gilbert and Sullivan. Rundgren has been a fan of Musical Theater since his father played those sort of songs from albums like HMS Pinafore and South Pacific. For the live version, he varies the vocal cadence ever so slightly. Again Sulton and Hawkes provide most of the chordal key work. Gress returns with Strickland and ALL are playing keyboards with Strickland adding some digi-horn as Rundgren revels in his Gilbert and Sullivan element. One hiccup, a digital click is heard as Strickland hits a button on his keyboard. Otherwise, this is a perfect, royalty-free version.
“Drunken Blue Rooster” is trotted out as are Prince’s drums and Rundgren’s piano. He mugs it up on the high note every time he hits the solitary “ping”. He should have practiced this piano part as he played it much better when he took over for Paul Shaffer on Dave Letterman’s show once after regular fill in guest musical director Warren Zevon passed away.
Everyone but Prince is playing synths now. After the climax of the piece which feature Hawkes providing pitch-bends downward, the lights go down and a spotlight focuses on Rundgren as he attempts the piano part double-timed, complete with double-timed mugs in it! Now it’s time for…
“The Last Ride”.
A favorite of mine, gonna sit back and enjoy this one. Sulton dons a bass and Gress still has keys in front of him, but a guitar is slung over his back. Rundgren is brought out his SG by a crew member. While Rundgren gets his guitar, Strickland solos on soprano sax. Both solos (Rundgren’s and Strickland’s) are nothing short of divine! Rundgren’s voice is in great shape for a sixty-two year-old.
From my vantage point, every time Rundgren plays to my side of the theater, it is like an up-close guitar lesson for me. Simply amazing.
We are ready to rock to a slightly slower “Everybody’s Going To Heaven/King Kong Reggae” (which is not a reggae tune at all). Prince plays this tricky, riff laden duo-tune super tight. Gress ducks off stage left (facing) for a bit. Rundgren solos and does vocals at once. For this guitars only tune, the keyboards are gone and Sulton occupies stage right (facing), directly in front of me. He recognizes me (it isn’t hard to recognize me, I’m the dingus who spends more time writing than viewing) or more accurately, recognizes my best thing to ever happen to me (we talked with Sulton after 2008/9 NYE at Painted Bride, after 09-09-2009’s AWATS show in Stamford, that was where he touched her face and said she was gorgeous, never said he didn’t have good taste in women).
I have only this to say to Sulton: WHERE ARE THOSE FREE TICKETS YOU OFFERED IN PRINT? YOU PLAYED PHILLY AND BLEW ME OFF!!
From what I was told, it wasn’t Sulton who forgot, it was one of his handlers. The people who handle artists REALLY shouldn’t forget us media writers, Sulton is planning a new album and would probably appreciate the publicity I could offer. When I was pre-syndicated, I helped promote his DVD Kasim Sulton Live In Atlanta and Roger Powell could not deny that I helped Powell get a record deal for his Blue Note Ridge CD. I really doubt I did anything, but it was nice for Powell to say “It didn’t hurt.”
I am getting some of that Laurie Anderson syndrome, where at my proximity, I am hearing Rundgren project from his diaphragm past the PA. It got a little sloppy after the bridge, but what the hell, it’s only rock and roll.
For this two-for song, Hawkes and Strickland’s walkers were wheeled out again, and Sulton situates himself between them. Keeping things on track. The trade-off solos between Gress and Rundgren were prime examples of “I can do better than you can.” Only neither one could! This dueling brought us right into the “King Kong Reggae”. Rundgren does monkeyesque gesticulations! What a goof!
Rundgren invites us to sing along to the call and response lyrics. I take a glance back and the house is grooving.
Two killer shows in four days!! I don’t know if my heart can take it!!!
Rundgren removes the SG but is reminded by Sulton that he needs it. Then it takes him multiple requests for a B note to tune the B string. “We’ll get it right before the tour’s over” Rundgren announces.
The “sex” song “Number One Lowest Common Denominator” is next. Another guitar feature tune, Gress ducks under the boom and exits stage left (facing). A key line is triggered that sounds well out of place (actually, to me, it sounds like one of the triggers from “Flesh”, to be played later as part of Healing). Rundgren points and mouths something at those keyboardists off stage.
Gress and Rundgren harmonize guitar lines into Rundgren’s thunderous solo. Gress jams with Prince as the four-piece wails a chord strummed ending with lasers piercing from the back of the stage.
As they once again wheel out the piano, Rundgren performs a divestiture of his vest. The drums are removed for the Linn-drum style recorded drums of “Useless Begging”. Sulton does keys, but a bass is hanging from his shoulder. Rundgren motions for a monitor adjustment. They are using in-ear monitors and ear-mounted microphones. Rundgren is the pioneer of the “clean” stage.
Meaning that there are no on-stage amplifiers, no mic stands, no monitors (for Rundgren to trip over, see the Utopia video An Evening With Utopia, specifically the song “Infrared And Ultraviolet”).
During the album track, there is a ‘tap-dance’ solo. Well, Rundgren’s own Mr. Bojangles (as he was announced by Rundgren), Prince comes out with tap shoes and actually performs the part as opposed to merely clicking out the part on the drum rims. Even Strickland laughs as Prince dances his way into our hearts. A mic dangles from Prince’s monitor system to pick up the tap heel clicks!
Rundgren leaves the stage but his mic is still up as he was complaining about something or someone. Midi drums do supply the rhythm for “Sidewalk Café”. Strickland and Gress trade-off lead notes. Sulton keeps his eye on the intrusive boom cam.
Perhaps one of the things Rundgren was complaining about was a cameraman who got in the way of the crew members wheeling Prince back onstage for “Izzat Love”. Rundgren sings as he strides side to side, stage left to right. Those high notes he recorded in his twenties are a bit hard to get to now in his sixties. Please allow me to recite the Peter Gabriel theorem one more ‘gain: “The notes you write in your twenties and thirties are harder and harder to hit in your forties and fifties.” But Prince is tight and on fire playing his “mini” kit.
Once again, difficult to reproduce tape effects ring in “Heavy Metal Kids” as Strickland appears with a baritone sax. Sulton and Strickland jam in front of Prince. Here I go again, singing along… Sorry. Sulton and Gress do the old ‘back-against-back’ maneuver before the whole band executes the crazed-three-fingered-maniac-solo ending.
Rundgren claims “Don’t You Ever Learn” is a classic. Hmmm. Rundgren starts the song on piano, then gives a slight count in to cue Prince and company so they can join in. Again, Rundgren needs to spend some time practicing piano as he lets a few clunkers fly.
While it is a true treat to hear these songs interpreted live, there remain slips and flub-ups. Something just isn’t jiving during the melody and “ooh” bridge. They pull it back together for the sequencer-filled ending replete with crisp backing vocals. It ended up being ok.
Intermission. Whew! We are going to take a break and bring you part two of this review next entry. More pictures, more descriptions and, unfortunately, more controversy. Catch it, catch it!
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