Old-time pal Ed Vigdor is eager at the door, all smiles shoving a Patronet form in my hand before I see it's him and call his name. A hoop of recognition. A little "by gone" chat and that's that last I see of him until after the show. I cruise the crowd seeking other familiar faces. Benn Kobb is there to embarrass me with raves about my talent. I am pleased to meet and shake hands for the first time with Jim Garner. He and I rag on Awizard and its demise, neither regretting the forced hiatus. I miss John Glossenger's helmeted head.
I cruise again. Should I claim a stake on a stool, or commit to 3 hours on my feet? Without the trappings of the Tiki set, there's a great view from stage right just above the back entrance. I watch the heart felt acoustic world music warm up act. He's animated. The crowd is receptive. He still resorts to referring to who will follow to steel some cheers for his own. He announces a song called ONE WORLD. That ain't the one we know! (But it's decent). Before his set ends, the need to move wins. I return to the floor stage left. The crowd is still thin. I merge to second row.
The Revlon Girls are back. At least the bump and grind will have soft spots. Time passes quickly and the crowd thickens finally to just short of a packed house. It must be close, because the owner is now doing his "New music sucks" speech and prattles on about turning 50. But he sprouts off a list of live acts coming: Robin Tower, Molly Hatchet, former members of this and that band. He caps it with Steve Howe appearing in November. Cool. He obviously is a genuine Todd fan evidenced by his waxing about his Nazz Nazz 8-track.
There's a fan with a Utopia license tag and a copy of OLY. Set lists are circulating. More than a few people know that Kasim has broken his foot. The waiting is mercifully brief. Surprisingly I smell no pot in the air.
The band enters. Kasim smiles through the buzz as he sets his crutches aside and fixes himself to a stool for the evening. Only a bandage is visible around his left foot. (Later he will be seen adjusting volume controls with his out-stretched toe!) There is no chatter as they open with IHMFISP. I am relieved that the performance has been honed since the Kilborne show.
The songs rock out one by one. Trey Sabatelli is a flawless happy demon on the drums. Kasim's discomfort shows only flirtingly on his face. His playing is unaffected save for one time late in the set. From what I can tell, Todd's voice is strong but the mix is muted perhaps by my close stance. Good thing I know all the words. The sound pours out. How do three guys do this much?
We fix our gaze and the guitar god comes out habitually soloing inches from my face. My digital camera batteries decide there will be no visual reminders of the blistering treatment during #1LCD. Todd's only major flub of the evening manifests in not recalling the long legs even to the neck. The guitar cord begins to tickle his back side.
"YER FAST AND I LIKE IT I LIKE IT I LIKE IT I LIKE IT" is the early bookend to ISP's IHATEIHATE IHATEIHATE. OPEN MY EYES is a tasty morsel from the past. The pace is frenetic with only a brief stop to say no old west coast jokes. He announces that the foot is officially broken.
The bassist is the butt of it the during our hero's solo can-can kicks on CIJTY. The crowd completes choral responses during BLACK & WHITE & LOVE IN ACTION. The fake ending is extending and almost convincing. The song picks back up as if the needle has been dropped back down mid song. The Hammer in my heart is pounding in steady pace to the unrelenting rhythms. Finally the first part of the set ends and Kasim hobbles stage left while Todd & Trey exit the other side. (The blonde nearly knocks me over as she seizes the opportunity to get face time with Kaz. They provide the perfect cooing couple visuals to accompany TR's acoustic solo rendition of CLICHE.)
But first Todd tunes the uke. "Close enough!" People are amused by the Hawaiian war chant performance which is even slightly better than on CD. This works much better live than on disc.
Breaks over, the rocking continues. They cover all the new material except MARY and TRAIN. BUFFALO GRASS continues to wrap itself around my heart. Mesmerizing. Haunting. The vocals continue to amaze. Kasim shines on TRAPPED.
THE IKON on three instruments. Impossible? Fuck no! Kasim can't move and mouths smiling apologies to Todd for an abbreviated bass solo. Trey bangs the drums. It's been a looong time since I heard a live drum solo like this. Rundgren reveals the axe maniac within. Duh-duh-duh-DI Duh-duh-dud-DI Duh-duh-duh-DI DAH--WA!
Old and more recent material is interspersed well. Todd sings and plays like a champ. But he wants that goddamned cord off his ass. The roadie thinks about moving in but for some reason doesn't. Part three of the set ends. We get three encores. I yell "Free bird!" and a few people get the joke.
No one seems to notice if they ever heard WWE before. Revlon girl #1 is making love to Kas with her eyes pulsating inches from me. She is there for the taking, but thankfully I know I don't want her. The building must be swaying, captive to the din by this time. Are even the clocks ticking in time? It's over before we know it and the bass and drum riffs echo in my mind like waves from the surf.
It is quite obvious that the stock hits would not have fit in this mix (as if Todd would play them in any circumstance). I am content to think this has been so much better than a "best of" hits show could ever be. It will definitely not be the last Todd show I ever see. My mind wonders what the casual fan or innocent bystander in this obviously 30- to 40-something+ crowd might conclude about TR. The "not what you might expect yet not disappointing" stock answer applies. One thing is sure: this poor boy can make an electric guitar scream and the house was rocked.
I take time to complement Trey on his playing. He is young and exuberant, reveling in the experience. He raves on the tour book. Frets his thinning hair. Smiles for the camera. After the line is gone, Todd comes out and says "Who wants pictures?" I snap a dozen or so having retrieved an external battery from the car. (DAMN! I wished I had power during those solos!)
The picture seekers wane. He becomes trapped in a ceaseless, one-way conversation with a dain-brammaged type. I try to rescue him by moving in for a final photo-op. The fiend does not disengage. Todd and I smile at each other. His eyes say, "Do you believe this guy?" He calls me by name when it is time to say good-bye. Such a simple bliss.