It was six songs into his set before Todd Rundgren uttered those smilingly pointed words at the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den Saturday night, and by then he was pretty much stating the obvious. In the midst of a tour in which he is experimenting in a power trio format for the first time in his long, adventurous career – backed by bassist/vocalist Kasim Sulton and drummer/vocalist Trey Sabatelli – the guitarist/singer/songwriter left his Rote-as-Jingle-Bells hits at home and still managed to take a wildly enthusiastic crowd on a spendid, prismatic voyage through the history of rock – Rundgren style.
Kicking off with the insanely catchy “I Hate My Frickin’ ISP,” the band wasted no time in establishing a mood and an energy. As evidenced by such standard bearers as Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the power trio had best be long on musicality and a shared vision utilizing virtuosity for the sake of the song rather than self-absorbed noodling.
Rundgren and band did so effortlessly, and as such pointed out what a remarkably gifted songwriter he is – even leaving out the big radio favorites. Dressed in black neo-pajamas, and wearing his post-shoulder-length hair in his usual black-and-white Florsheim Wingtip look, Rundgren was in fine voice, humor, and was particularly dexterous of guitar choppage – as evidenced last year when he came through as the guitarist for Ringo Starr’s All-Starr Band and covered parts made famous by Eric Clapton, Robin Trower and George Harrison with savage wit.
Sulton, an old pal/songwriting collaborator with Todd from the Utopia days, rested on a stool with an injured foot, played his reclining ass off, and chimed in with his crystalline voice. Sabatelli, grinning from behind his kit and an alumnus of the University of the Backwards Ball Cap, established a fine and crunching backbeat for the evening’s high-volume festivities.
For almost 90 minutes, the band smoothly flowed from untested and ebullient new guitar rock to arcane progressive segments from Utopia, from grinding versions of early solo Todd-pop to even a Nazz lagniappe or two. Included were “Couldn’t I Just Tell You,” “Black and White,” “There Goes My Inspiration,” “Love in Action,” “Trapped,” “Play This Game,” “Love of a Common Man,” “Ikon,” the astonishing “Buffalo Grass,” the set-closing “One World” and as an encore the frenetic, neo-mosh-pitted “Hammer in My Heart.”
There were several technical glitches in Rundgren’s effects set-up through the course of the show but they didn’t seem to impair the sound quality too much out front.
Rundgren’s voice, though a bit raspy, was up to the versatile demands of his material, and even on the one note he couldn’t hit – he backed away from the mike with a sheepish grin – Sulton instinctively leaned in to his own microphone and sang the line perfectly.
In the end, on an evening when all three musicians seemed perfectly relaxed and happy, Rundgren seemed to hand-pick the best elements of all the best possibilities of 30-plus years of The Power Trio – and serve them up in a vastly entertaining, self-penned musical ambrosia.