Adorned in the old, tattered "Hermit of Mink Hollow" T-shirt I wear to all TR shows, I made my way through the half-filled Meadowbrook pavillion to my tenth-row seat. The same Meadowbrook where 18 years previous I had seen the Phab Phour in their burgundy silk suits and flossably-thin ties belt out "Feet Don't Fail Me Now" to screaming, rose-carrying teenage girls. This show was far different from the style-over-substance days of the '80s, needless to say.
First off, in lieu of Leon Russell, we in attendance endured the worst comedian I had ever witnessed. No humor, no timing, and his only good moments involved self-deprocation--he actually measured the cheers of the crowd to see if the lawn hated him worse than the pavillion. It was a slow, painful death indeed.
Then, after a minimal set-up, Kasim and Trey walked onstage (how bout NO fanfare?). Half the crowd thought Leon Russell would follow for a moment. Then OH walked out and approached the mike. He looked past the empty pavillion toward the packed lawn and said, "Those must be all my Internet fans!" Classic.
Then the three-piece band (with occasional accompanyment from a side-stage rhythm guitarist) drove through "Friggin ISP", a great song I had yet to hear. Many classic old TR songs followed: Love of the Common Man, Couldn't I Just Tell You, Love In Action, #1 LCD, B&W. So many great tunes. Amazing sound, all guitar and drums, fronted by OH's solid vocals.
As strong as they sounded, it appeared by their expressions like they were a bit dispirited on this stop. Trey seemed like he were playing skins in his father's band, smiling warmly at OH and moving effortlessly through his performance as if there was little challenge. Kaz at times gave the impression he wanted to be someplace else--at least until his duet with OH on an incredible rendition of "Trapped" from Oops! Wrong Planet, the best song of the set IMO. Despite their low-key demeanor, they were quite the tight-knit threesome.
Todd's "Band take five, I'm going acoustic" interlude included not the uplifting "Cliche" as I expected, but rather, a cover of the Beatles' "Hide Your Love Away" (the audience filled in the chorus very nicely), followed by "Bang The Drum" on ukelele.
The golden moment of the night was the "Mystified" medley, which reached waaaaay back into OH's (and my) childhood for "Open My Eyes" (11 shows and this was the FIRST Nazz song I can remember, not counting "Hello It's Me") and "Broke Down and Busted" from Runt (Why don't bands today cover these classics? I thought to myself). It felt so good to be infused once again with those brilliant melodies and quirky chord progressions.
Two encores, the first including the Top 40 hit "Hammer" as well as the new "Surf"... the second, a powerful version of the hip-hop crossover "Epiphany" from No World Order. Hard to believe a piece like that could be pulled off so richly by this stripped-down arrangement (I distinctly heard the keyboard fills, yet saw nothing onstage. Hmmm...).
The crowd was lukewarm at the start of the show, but grew in volume as the faithful cut through the season-ticket holders and elderly couples (the number of 50+ folks in the crowd stunned me) and made each ovation echo like that of a sold out arena. Initially only a few stood after each number (including an exhibitionist lesbian couple in row 1), but by the encores, all were out of their seats in the lower half of the pavillion.
Musically speaking, a potent display of raw energy that celebrated the emotional essence of many of OH's musical accomplishments. In that sense, this show succeeded where few (none?) had before in capturing the power behind his impulsive early rants. I felt the same adrenal surge I experienced the first time I spun the vinyl. You got the sense that it's all about the power of the music to Todd, and you don't need a laser show or wardrobe changes when the product is this pure.
To me, it's puzzling why OH seems so affected by the empty seats. His withdrawl into the world of the computer has killed what passive audience following he had previously enjoyed. Leaving only the hard core followers: the techno-geeks and balding, aging 70s-rock dinosaurs (me). Half-filled arenas are the result not of his ability waning, but rather his efforts at self-promotion. After experiencing the previous week's Steely Dan show beside college-aged kids singing every word of every obscure song in unison, I can only hope that one day Gen Yers and Zers discover that one of the foremost singer/songwriter/musician/producers of our time is out there. In half-filled amphitheaters and grocery store parking lots.