Todd Rundgren Solo Tour - Ram’s Head Tavern - Annapolis, MD 10/23/01

Review by David Glaser (Switch to

I should start by saying that I have read a lot of reviews about this tour, so my antennae were up going in - I was expecting a lousy show! I was somewhat shocked by the brutality of some of these reviews. I mean, these are Todd’s FANS for God’s sake. Todd did make mistakes galore, mostly early on, and mostly on acoustic guitar, and these made for some very uncomfortable moments for the crowd and, I’m sure, for Todd. But Todd doesn’t make his living as a guitarist or a pianist, and let’s not lose sight of what is at the heart of this tour and why we spent $49.95 per ticket in the first place: this is an honest to God ROCK ICON seen in his most stripped down musical form in a very intimate setting. I have seen Todd play many times and I have never gotten so close to him - my seat was maybe 15 feet away from where he was standing. The last time I saw him I was lucky if I got within 100 yards (Walk Down Abbey Road at Wolf Trap), and the time before that, even though it was a small venue (Bottle and Cork, Dewey Beach, DE - Power Trio Tour) I was about 40 feet away and had to stand for the entire show. So, make no mistake: the voice and the persona were what I came to experience and scrutinize at close range, and by the end of the evening neither left me wanting.

Todd walked on stage to a respectful ovation dressed all in black - blazer, t-shirt, and drawstring pants (He asked the crowd later if the pants made his ass look fat - they didn’t - He said he got them at the Army - Navy Surplus Store; “I went in for a gas mask, and came out with pants!”). When the applause died down Todd quipped, “I smell fish” and launched into a very shaky “Love of a Common Man”. Not only was the guitar pretty bad on this one, but the voice was not yet warmed up and crapped out on some of the high notes. The guitar problems continued on “There Goes My Inspiration” with Todd groping for chords (he would close his eyes and put his head back to sing, and totally lose his place on the finger board!). He even commented in the middle of the song that the strings on the black Takamine he was playing were “too heavy”. After that one he seemed to calm down a bit and get a little more relaxed with things, realizing that the worst mistakes of the night were probably behind him, and the crowd wasn’t booing but was actually quite warm and attentive as if to say “it’s ok, we’re all with you!”. What followed was one of the better stretches of the show with “I Don’t Want To Tie You Down” “Lysistrata”, and “Cliche” all sounding excellent vocally, and about as good as you can expect on guitar.

When Todd sat down at the piano I held my breath again due to prior VERY harsh reviews of his piano playing. First he couldn’t turn on the light at the piano and the Ram’s Head sound man (Brian) had to come up and fix it for him, prompting the joke “How many rock stars does it take to screw in a light bulb? None! It’s the roadie’s job!” I was then very pleasantly surprised by fluent renderings of “Song of the Viking” and “Compassion” which both got a gold star on my scorecard. “Too Far Gone” followed and was lukewarm, but with no major problems. Todd wrapped up the piano portion by dedicating “Free, Male and 21” to his son, a professional baseball player of all things! This tune was hilarious and with the exception of “Viking” was the only song to really dip into Todd’s humorous side. 2 songs out of 25 is not enough humor for yours truly!

The next phase of the show was the Jesse Gress / MP3 bossa nova portion which has been so controversial, and I must say I agree with prior reviewers: “lose the MP3 player and just do the songs with guitar, voice, and shakers!”. “Never Never Land”, Lady Madonna”, and “Lucky Guy” done without the MP3 backup were the highlights of this portion, and Jesse Gress (who was also working as Todd’s guitar tech) was the usual relaxed and flawless finger style guitarist (playing a blonde nylon string Takamine with a cutaway), though at times his guitar was so light in the mix I had trouble hearing him. Jesse also dipped into the humor repertoire, pretending to play with his teeth on “Mated”. And yes, he was left hanging a couple of times by poorly planned MP3 endings, but it wasn’t all that horrible, and artists and fans alike had a good laugh over it. As a sidebar I should also mention that Jesse was very amiable after the show and was kind enough to sign my copy of “The Guitar Cookbook”, authored by him. The book is an excellent text for advanced guitarists as well as beginners.

Todd wrapped up the show well with “Hammer in My Heart” played on his blonde F-hole Yamaha electric with Line 6 Pod. About 2/3 of the way through he popped a string that just sort of hung there limp, stopped, said “this doesn’t sound right, does it?”, ripped the string free and let it fall to the floor, and continued on to the end. After the tune ended he shouted “Jesse! How do you work this crazy thing?”. Jesse trotted out and took the guitar backstage to fix the string and Todd plowed ahead on acoustic with “Tiny Demons”. The Yamaha returned with a new string in place and Todd finished with “Love in Action”(with great crowd participation), “One World”, and a rousing rendition of “The Wheel”.

Jesse and the “Box” returned for the first 2 songs of the encore, “Love is the Answer” and “I Want You”, and Todd & Jesse, without the “Box”, finished with “A Dream Goes On Forever”.

Overall it was not one of the best musical shows I've seen, but it wasn’t bad either, especially factoring in the amazing guitar playing of Jesse Gress. But what we all came for was the voice - that magical voice that we’ve heard and loved for so many years - that could still be just as at home and enthralling on a street corner in Philly singing old Marvin Gaye tunes, or in a huge arena, belting out world famous rock anthems. As it was, I got to experience it up close and personal - and that, to me, was well worth the ticket price. As I told Todd when I met him after the show, “You are the Cal Ripken of rock ‘n roll - the Iron Man!” (and he did meet and greet EVERY fan who wanted an autograph or a handshake, much like Cal), which Todd responded to by saying, “Oh, you mean I’m ready to retire?”. This reviewer hopes that doesn’t happen for a long, long time.

Set List: 
KEY: Black Takamine (T), Yamaha Electric w/Pod(Y), Piano (P), MP3 Box (B) 
Jesse Gress (J)
1. Love of a Common Man (T)
2. There Goes My Inspiration (T)
3. I Don’t Want To Tie You Down (T)
4. Lysistrata (T)
5. Cliche (T)
6. Song of the Viking (P)
7. Compassion (P)
8. Too Far Gone (P)
9. Free, Male and 21 (P)
10. I Saw The Light (J, B)
11. Influenza (J, B)
12. Can We Still Be Friends (J, B)
13. Never Never Land (J)
14. Lucky Guy (J)
15. It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference (J, B)
16. Mated (J, B)
17. Lady Madonna (J)
18. Hammer In My Heart (Y)
19. Tiny Demons (T)
20. Love In Action (Y)
21. One World (Y)
22. The Wheel (T)
23. Love Is The Answer (J, B)
24. I Want You (J, B)
25. A Dream Goes on Forever (J)

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10/23/2001 - Rams Head Tavern - Annapolis, MD

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