see you all tomorrow night in way-eastern ohio!
Todd Rundgren Roxy Los Angeles 6-13-99
Last time I saw Todd Rundgren was about five years ago in a one man electronic rave at Fairfax High School here in LA. For this performance I had no idea which Todd to expect --the guitarist, the Philly soul man, the gizmo-driven dance machine? I was pretty certain he wouldn't be jumping off big pyramids though.
The Roxy is a small place that can squash in maybe 500 people if you try. It was pleasantly crowded for the second night of Todd's show, which was sort of a Rundgren sandwich really. Todd Rundgren followed by Julie Christensen followed by Todd Rundgren. But in a way it was really like three bands, because the first Rundgren set was almost a polar opposite from the second.
For the first one his five piece band consisted of his old Utopia bandmate Kasim Sulton on bass, former Tube's drummer Prairie Prince, rhythm guitarist Joe Forensi, guitarist Jesse Gress (the same guy who transcribes guitar solos printed in Guitar Player magazine) and of course Todd on his own guitar. That's right no keyboards--unusual considering how much he's worked with them in the past.
They didn't lack for energy though. Rundgren came out last and asked the Sunday evening crowd, "How was church?" before they blasted through an hour-long set of Rundgren faves sprinkled with a few new tunes. The band lead with Surf Talks, a song that he made available recently over his website. At first Todd let Jesse handle the guitar solos while he sang. As they progressed through Black and White, Drive, Love In Action, Hammer in My Heart, Trapped and Worldwide Epiphany though, Rundgren took over more of the solos on his own Strat. He left no doubt that his membership in the All-Time Guitar Hero Club is still in force.
In between Julie Christensen, originally from the local band Divine Horsemen, showed off her torchy stylings to the crowd, accompanied by piano. She was all smiles the whole half-hour set; she seems to enjoy what she's doing. Many in the audience seemed to appreciate the cinematic quality of her voice but mostly the babble never died down enough to really appreciate the clarity of her singing. A shame, she's worth undivided attention.
After Julie left the stage the crew tore down a black backdrop, revealing a tacky Tahitian lounge set, complete with tikis, woven grass screens and a glittery blue tinsel curtain behind a small drum kit and electric piano. Bar stools were set up for the band and six chairs were put out on the outer edge of the stage with small tables. A few audience members were invited to sit there as props, completing the lounge atmosphere.
When the band returned Todd was without a guitar. Jesse manned a semi-acoustic guitar and John stayed behind the piano for the rest of the evening. First off, they launched into a bossa nova version of I Saw The Light, following by similar treatments of Can't We Still Be Friends, It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference, Love Is the Answer and Never Never Land (yes, the old Mary Martin vehicle from Peter Pan which he originally did on A Wizard A True Star in 1973).
The lounge arrangements didn't seem out of place with Todd's softer repertoire. He's underrated as a soul singer and it's easy to see why lots of fans like Rundgren more for his pop music than his rock. He sings in a lovely vulnerable way, plus his love songs have great lyrics. This kind of fare could easily come out like syrupy goo but Rundgren handled the confections with care and a sense of humor. The big surprise was a complete rework of Born to Synthesize, which became sort of an up tempo lounge jazz without any synthesizers at all. Jesse was given room for an impressive George Benson-ish solo along with shorter solos from John and Prairie. Rundgren acknowledged the crowd's approval with an Austin Powers-like "Got my mojo back, baby!" The show ended a couple songs later with A Dream Goes On Forever. The second set was a little over an hour but sans encore, in spite of some calls for We Gotta Get You A Woman from one side of the room. Maybe the whole second set was the encore.
All in all, the show was a far cry from his headliner days in the 70's, but Todd's still giving a great performance. Catch it while you can; you can be sure next time he'll be doing something different.
(c) 1999 Rusty Pipes RustyKLST@aol.com