Last night [this was written Fri 7/6/01, as a report to my buds] I left work around 4pm and changed and walked the mile south to Grant Park to see the night's free concert at the Taste of Chicago. Billed as "A Walk Down Abbey Road: A Tribute to the Beatles," this was a strange-sounding collection of Alan Parsons, Ann Wilson (the singing sister from Heart), John Entwhistle, and Todd Rundgren. Went by myself because nobody else could really get it together to make this 5pm show downtown. I could've easily skipped it but, hey! it was free and close to where I work. Might suck, might be cool. Got a pass from the spousal unit and went on down.
As the band started I wasn't even in the arena proper; I stayed out in the grass area figuring I'd give a listen, stroll, get some food, etc. It was a beautiful, cool summer evening. There was a long line of people shuffling forward to get into the seating area. The band came out and opened with "Magical Mystery Tour" and it absolutely ROCKED. Hmm, they seem to be taking this seriously... I'm starting to pay attention. Next they kicked off "Open My Eyes" from the Nazz (go, Todd, go). It was scorching. Hmmm... I can eat after the concert... Then into Alan Parson's "Eye in the Sky." Who cares of this was an easy-listening mega smash on soft rock radio 20 years ago? It has a nice prog-rock intro ["Sirius"] and anyway everybody in the crowd was totally groovin. Man, this is good! But damn, I can't see a thing cuz there's a chain-link fence about ten yards ahead; really can't make out anything through it. Hey, look - there's no more line to get into the seated area; I'll check it out - no big loss if they're not letting anybody else in...
I got right in, got a great seat near the front of the free section (I THOUGHT it was a free concert; who do you have to know to get into the FIRST 15 rows?), and am SO GLAD I did. This was a GREAT show. The band also included 4 or 5 people I don't know, one of whom [David Pack, Ambrosia] is a great singer who I guess has worked with Alan Parsons, sang all of those tunes tonight, and handled all the McCartney lead vocals. They were relaxed and TOTALLY into it. They sounded great. This was definitely not thrown together. They had rehearsed and nowhere was this more evident than the vocals, which were right on the money.
The first set was great; they did a round-robin of the stars' songs (after the opening number, not a lick of Beatles was heard). The second set was all Beatles, and the crowd (ages 3 to 80) LOVED it. It was a magical scene. Everybody knew this was a very special delivery of these dearly beloved songs. Yeah, they've heard cover bands and even Beatles tribute bands do these songs before, but here was a seasoned, star-powered group of rock pros paying homage to their ultimate heroes with such obvious love and honor... Man, it was great. They were relaxed, no egos, thoroughly enjoying themselves, probably thrilled to be playing in downtown Chicago on this perfect night, having been lucky enough to have been chosen to pay tribute to this music to this very happy crowd.
I was brought to tears a few times. Just had a wide smile plastered on my face the rest. Parsons, with just his own acoustic guitar as backing, delivered an unbelievably beautiful "Blackbird." It was so gentle and heartbreaking and I was not only impressed with the talents of Parsons but was reaffirmed as to: hey, it doesn't matter how many sappy songs Paul McCartney later put out; the man is one of the Gods. "Hey Jude" brought another moment: everybody on their feet, tears streaming down their faces (I couldn't look around, but I couldn't have been the only one), when near the end the band stopped, the crowd - EVERY-FRICKIN-BODY - singing "Nah, nah, nah, na-na-na-nah, na-na-na-nah, hey, Jude" - one of the most famous choruses in rock - at the absolute top of their lungs, and then the band faded back in and rocked out some more.
But, for me, the ultimate highlight was Todd doing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps." The tripped-out, heart-wrenching guitar solo (on "the Fool" guitar, once owned by Clapton) killed; there were no survivors. It was so, so, so rewarding for me to see this. This huge crowd - a cross-section of all of Chicago (ok, so we were 99% white) - many of whom had never HEARD of Todd Rundgren, and most of the rest of whom (aside from those of us, obviously, who showed up DUE TO Todd) who really didn't know much beyond "Hello, It's Me" and "Bang the Drum" ("Oh, look, Eileen, he can play the guitar, too!")... To see them all just get blown to smithereens by this legendary rock pioneer and guitar godd. Man, there are a LOT of great rock guitarists, in all sorts of styles, but I have never had anyone scrape out the inside of my brain pan like Todd can when he gets on that electric guitar (ok, there is Jimi, but he so rarely tours). His sound is so dripping, tripping, over-the-top, cleaning your clock, crying, sobbing, soaring, searing... Words fail me. It was the peak moment. I wish I'd had someone in addition to fellow Todd fan Martin, who I happened to sit beside, to have shared it with. And, oh my god, I wish I had it on tape. (I'm remaining hopeful that somebody somewhere will think this traveling wilburies roadshow is special enough to put on VH-1 or HBO, or something. Please, please...)
Man, I have not had my oil changed like that in a long, long time. It reaffirmed for me that there is really nothing greater in life than going to see Todd Rundgren play guitar in a rock and roll band. And this was the best band I've ever seen him play with. They were all great, they all brought something to the mix, and it really ended up being quite an extraordinary band. But Todd brought the psychedelic spatula (as well as played the court jester). All day I've had that strange but wonderful feeling that comes after such an epic event. Equal parts exhilarated and exhausted. Filled with great hope and yet utterly hopeless. Encouraged and discouraged. Happy and sad.
Add to this the fact that I later - totally accidentally - came a long arm's reach from the man himself, and oh so nearly got an autograph. After the show I gathered my wits and lugged myself out of my chair and moved into the shuffling throng and out into the Taste of Chicago, where I eventually found some veggie food and a beer. After I had sat and eaten I needed to walk back up past the band shell on my way home, and as I neared it I sensed something going on up ahead, a small crowd excitedly gathered, around what I could not see. Now, there were other luminaries there last night that could've just as easily been the flame these moths were gathered around (a survivor of The Who, for christ sake), but something told me that there was a special buzz... Sure enough, I got up there, people only about two deep, and there was Our Hero, with a load of clothes and whatever in one arm, reaching out with the other and signing anything people held out to him.
Two minutes earlier I had spent my last three food coupons on a sample slice of cheesecake (yum!), and was just finishing the last bite as I walked and saw the little crowd. Now, it dawned on me that this was an amazing opportunity to double the size of my collection of Todd autographs on desert-sized plastic plates! The first having been given to me by Ruz, obtained in Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, probably 11 or 12 years ago. And I always carry a pen with me, so I was all set.
But the handler types were tugging on him, and insisting he wrap it up, when I arrived. I stuck my long arm out as far as I could, and said, "Todd. Please!", and tried to connect. He glanced at me and my little plastic platter as he was backing away, then turned and disappeared behind one of the trucks. DAMN! I continued on my way home.
A few minutes later a monstrous airport van, clearly filled with band members, rolled past me on the path out of the park. It had to stop at the end and wait to enter traffic; a few pushy types were still trying to shove papers and pens in the driver's window. I could just barely see, through the tinted windows, Todd sitting in the back, and, as the van started to move, I waved, looked right at him, and said, loud enough to reach him through the open driver's window, "Thank you!" He waved and disappeared.
For a few hours, I once again believed in the power of rock and roll to change the world. Or at least my world. For a little while.
p.s., if this show comes to your town, go.
SET LIST Magical Mystery Tour Open My Eyes (Nazz) Sirius/Eye in the Sky (an Alan Parsons song, sung by David Pack) Crazy on You (Heart, Ann Wilson) My Wife (Who, John Entwhistle) Hello, It's Me (TR) Don't Answer Me (AP, DP) Biggest Part of Me (DP [an Ambrosia song]) Bang the Drum (TR; crowd goes ape) The Real Me (the Who; this ROCKED even though Todd took a sit on this one) Dreamboat Annie (AW) Games People Play (AP, DP) Barracuda (AW; MAN, did Todd - and everybody - have fun ripping this one up) My Generation ----break---- Back in the USSR (DP) Lady Madonna (TR) I'm Down (AW) The Fool on the Hill (DP, with Todd acting the fool, during those genius "circus" parts) While My Guitar Gently Weeps (TR; see above) Here Comes the Sun (DP) Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds (DP) You've Got to Hide Your Love Away (Todd solo; he's done this before; I have an MP3 from '97) Maybe I'm Amazed (AW; ok, so it's not a Beatles tune, but that's only because they broke up first; Parsons engineered on it) Rain (TR; aww, was this one great, too [I see from other reviews that they he did "Hey, Bulldog!" at some other shows!!] Blackbird (AP; see above) Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey (AW; this was hot. Man, the second set was hot!) Revolution (TR, of course! "We all want to change your head"!) Day Tripper Ticket to Ride I Wanna Hold Your Hand Hey Jude (AW) ----encore---- Birthday Golden Slumbers (more Blom tears; I don't know why, it was just so powerful to hear this stuff, played by these people, and, anyway, this song has always killed me) Carry that Weight The End ---There was WAY more than enough absolutely fever-pitched roar going on at this point ("M O R E ! M O O O O O O O O R R R R R R E !!!!!!"), to summon them back to the stage another time, but you could tell it was one of those pre-arranged things by the City - stop at 7:30. So more was not to be. (Maybe they played all the Beatles songs they know.)