Val-Air Ballroom 6/1/2000

Review by Bruce Brandt (Switch to

Greeeeeaaaaat show! Although the Val-Air Ballroom in Des Moines is not a ideal venue in terms of sound quality, it seemed to me that the various sound/mix problems John Kirk described at the Chicago show had been solved -- either by technical means or a change in the sound man. Although I was some distance from the stage, I also did not see any sign that Todd was playing around with the RIO MP-3; either someone off stage was handling it or he did not use it (I didn't notice anything other than guitar, bass, drums, vocals; and perhaps the MP-3's presence in the show may be subtle enough to be missed unless sound quality is perfect).

Todd played pretty much the same set as described in Chicago, with a few changes in the order (and "Hammer in my Heart" was played during the regular show rather than the encore). John was right, "Open My Eyes" was fantastic. It would have been my highlight of the show, except that it has to share the honors with the best performance of "Love in Action" I've ever heard. Kick-ass!

Most of the new songs sound great, but especially "Yer Fast", "I Hate My Frickin' ISP" ( I love this song, which only Todd could write and which should become a cyber-space anthem. It would have probably sounded even better had it not been the set opener, when the sound was still being adjusted) and "The Surf Talks." Can't wait to get a copy of OLY in a few weeks.

The final highlight was "Bang the Ukulele Daily". I had to send a special note to Ian Whitcomb about that part of the show this morning (I've mentioned Ian in a past message. As background, you need to know that he is one of the leading proponents of the ukulele today, that his anthem about the 4-stringer is called "The Ukulele is on the March" and that his favorite instrument is nicknamed "Ukie".) Here it is:

Subject: The Ukulele is (Indeed) on the March

Hello, Ian:

Went to see a rare Todd Rundgren performance here in Des Moines last night. Amid the classic power trio cacophony, Mr. Rundgren slowed things down for an acoustic set. The first number was accompanied by acoustic guitar, and then............Todd turns around, takes off the six-string, turns back to the audience holding a rather small four-stringed object. "Your probably trying to figure out what this funny looking little instrument is," he comments. Rundgren goes on to explain that in the English translation, it is a "jumping flea", but that the audience probably knows it better by its Hawaiian name, the ukulele. He then introduces the next song by describing it as the "first Hawaiian war chant I ever learned", and launches into a charming version of his '80 workweek radio anthem "Bang on the Drum All Day". Delightful!

I also have a sneaking suspicion as to where Rundgren may have obtained his uke; on the Rhino Records site for "Legends of the Ukulele", I noticed this quote the other day about Jim Beloff: "Secondly, if he's not talking about Todd Rundgren B-sides, he's preaching ukulele like a TV evangelist without the Southern accent." Coincidence? I think not.

Ukie can rest assured that his relatives are indeed on the march, even if in the most unlikely places.......

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6/1/2000 - Val Air Ballroom - Des Moines, IA

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