Pat and I started out in the desert (Las Vegas) and ended up in the desert (Phoenix) never leaving the desert for the entire drive of about 300 miles. Amazing how much desert there is out here but how much it changes in terms of plant life and vista as one travels across it. We entered Phoenix by way of Sun City on it's west side. This was a mistake. Sun City is one of the most horrible places we've ever driven through. How they can scam retired people into living in this hell hole is beyond me. An elephant graveyard would have more charm.
The venue was pretty cool, The Celebrity Theater, although the neighborhood left a bit to be desired, definitely looked like gangsta territory in Phoenix. As we pulled into the parking lot we spotted people with "I need tickets" signs. I thought that was cool since there has been quite a bit of comment on various mailing lists and newsgroups about poor ticket sales and the potential for cancelled shows. We entered down some stairs and were immediately in the vicinity of a large bar. Not being one to pass up a good thing, I ordered a $6.00 Bud Lite for Pat and a Bud for me (these were the only beers on tap). As we walked away from the bar I heard "Bob" and glanced around, then I heard "Hey, aren't you ChemBob?," and I spotted the source. It was Larry and his friends, Ray and (sheesh, forgot his name, and he even bought us a beer). Pat and I had met Larry at the Agoura Hills solo show. They were able to give us directions so we could avoid Sun City when leaving Phoenix. There were Todd fans everywhere.
We got to our seats, which were right behind the mixing board and other electronics (but very near the stage, they should be, cost $77 per ticket or something like that), and were found almost immediately by Vanessa Moats and her friend Taren (spelling?), neither of whom we had met before. We chatted for a bit, talked about going out for drinks or dinner afterward and I told them that, prior to that, Pat and I were hoping to go backstage after the gig if I could work it out.
I didn't write down the set list but others did (see other reviews on trconnection). This was a totally awesome show, with an unbelievable amount of talent on the stage, including those whose names weren't on the posters. David Pack, Geoffrey Townsend, the drummer, keyboardist, they were all outstanding (the drummer was in fact, one of the best I've ever heard; made me realize I need to practice more; kudos to John Entwhistle for the talent he works with). Other reviewers have hinted at it and I'll state it. Todd Rundgren stole the show. He was Mr. Charisma and the crowd went nuts at everything he did. His rendition of "Hello It's Me" was superb. He took the mike off the stand and walked all around the perimeter of the rotating stage (btw, the theater is in the round and the stage rotates, in one direction for a while then it reverses and goes the other direction), singing...no, crooning, to the audience. They ate it up. It ended with a tremendous standing ovation and the roar of "Todd, Todd, Todd" from every direction. In fact, yelling "Todd" was pretty much status quo for the bulk of the crowd every time he did anything. I tried yelling "Anne, Anne" after some of her songs but even the consonants are soft in her name and it makes it very hard to yell with any authority. Try it. Yell Todd, then yell Anne. See what I mean? In addition to his little walk, Todd was the only one (that I discerned) who changed outfits for the 2nd set. He did the first set in his usual loose black pants and shirt. The second set he did in an Abby Road tour muscle shirt and his drawstring Hawaiian pants, barefoot.
The first set was, as you all know, "hits" from the various artists in this Heinz 57 assortment of musical stars. They did a great job on them and the whole place was rockin'. I read one review where the reviewer was bothered by the fact that they probably did this gig for the money. Well DUH! Don't most of us go to work every day for the money? Having some money in the bank might actually allow a breather for some creativity and new musical ideas (but then again, maybe they'll all just buy new cars or something).
The second set was totally Beatles music, of course. I've read other reviews where the reviewers seemed to indicate that this was the weaker part of the show and that the Beatles did it better. This set being weaker didn't seem to be the consensus of the folks sitting around me, nor of Pat and myself. Comparing the two sets is something like comparing apples and oranges and, if the first set was apples, there were all varieties of apples (delicious, red, green, johnathan, granny smith, macintosh) making a direct comparison of the sets even more difficult. Regarding the Beatles doing it better... well, maybe; I guess we'll never know since most of the songs Todd et al. played were never played live by the Beatles. They quit touring rather early, remember? At any rate, they really knocked out the songs and the audience, which seemed to be on it's feet at the end of every song and continuously during and after TR's belting out of Revolution.
Throughout the show the harmonies (especially TR and Anne) were flawless and Todd made no flubs the entire night (nothing discernible to me after a couple of the giant beers anyway). It seemed like they were really having fun playing together. One thing that I noticed more and more as the night went along was that Todd seemed to be, in general, the de facto leader of the band. They were playing off his cues, he was counting off lead-ins or having the drummer do it, songs would end with his jumps, etc., etc. The other musicians got ovations and massive rounds of applause but, seriously, the crowd just went nuts whenever Todd played his guitar or sang lead on anything. It sort of seemed like Anne was growing frustrated by the level of attention to Todd, whereas Alan Parsons just went over, put his arms around Todd and hugged him, as though he was massively pleased. This is the backup band that Todd always deserved and never had (OK, flame away).
I'll agree with one other reviewer who said that this was the best Beatles cover band ever. Frankly, I was surprised at how good they were. I have been attending shows by a local Las Vegas group called The Fab. They are totally a Beatles cover band, that's all they play (on stage anyway). They play the tunes so perfectly that I didn't hold out any hope that the hastily assembled band of quadra- and pentagenarian rockers could possibly do as well. I was wrong. Not only did they do as well, they did it better by letting their own natural talents and capabilities ooze through the classic melodies.
Finally, the show had to end. Vanessa and Taren caught up to Pat and I, whereby I led them on a merry chase countercurrent to the exiting crowd, working our way towards the stage entrance and the equipment ramp. I asked one of the stage hands if he could ask Todd if we could go backstage. He said he couldn't but she might (pointing towards a woman on stage in a red jacket). I asked her and she went to ask Todd (I know, I couldn't believe it either). So we're standing there next to the stage and waiting for her to come back. Instead, the venue militia comes up and asks us what we're doing. I tell them that we're waiting on a response because Todd might let us go backstage. He goes "Todd who?" I say "Todd Rundgren" and he acts like he knows what I'm talking about and says "OK" but was clearly not happy. Eventually, the woman in the red jacket comes back and says Todd is meeting with the band but he said to wait where we were and he would bring us backstage (ending my fear of rejection). While we're waiting the venue marines come back and again we tell them what we're doing and that Todd has told us to wait here. They clearly don't believe us and tell us we've got to leave because they're locking the doors. Finally the goon squad has pestered us until we're moved over by the last unlocked door. Fortunately the woman in the red jacket is also there. She accesses her walkie-talkie (they all had them) and tells one of the guys to take us to the green room. It actually had green doors and green trim. Almost immediately after we get there another walkie-talkie guy comes and leads us down the hallway. Too cool. There was a line of people along the hallway wall waiting to get autographs and such, he led us past them and right up to Todd. Todd was talking to a guy so I didn't interrupt but shook hands with the young keyboard player and told him how good he was. He really seemed to enjoy the compliment. Then Todd turned towards me and says "ChemBob" and we shake hands. He was holding an oil can of Foster's. I reintroduced Pat (he met her in San Francisco), Vanessa reintroduced herself (she had met him in Dallas a few years back) and introduced Taren (damn I wish I knew for certain how to spell her name).
We mostly just had a few minutes of small talk. I told him how surprised I was that they were so good in such a short time, he said they were surprised too. I asked him how the Phoenix show compared to the others they had done. He said that the show the previous night (which would have been his birthday and anniversary) was better, and indicated that the stage rotation had bothered the band, that it was the most confined area they had had to set up in, and that it was so loud on the stage that he had stuffed his ears with toilet paper. I'm thinking of sending him some earplugs. He also told me the bus ventilation wasn't working right (certainly not a good thing when you're in the desert). Anyway, after a bit more small talk, Pat and Vanessa got their hugs from TR. I told him that I didn't want to suck up any more of his time (figured we should leave without wearing out our welcome). He told me it was probably just as well because they needed to get stuff loaded up to travel anyway, but it seemed like he would actually have been happy to chat some more. My few personal encounters with TR lead me to believe that he is a really nice person, he always has been to Pat and I anyway. As we walked away, he said "See you online, ChemBob," which I thought was kinda neat.
One of the most enjoyable things happened as we were leaving the backstage area. The venue green beret who had been trying to get rid of us came up to me and said "Sorry about the misunderstanding, sir." Heh, heh, well there's a first time for everything I guess. I've gotten crosswise of a few venue guys in the past but this was the first one ever to apologize to me. As we were going out the backstage door, a couple of other venue guys were sitting there. We started talking about the concert and one of them said, "That was the best concert we've had here in a long, long time. I tried to get them to come back in six months but they said they couldn't." Enough said.
Bob (alias ChemBob)