Todd Rundgren’s Wednesday night show and Allentown’s Crocodile Rock Café came as a shocking disappointment to those who expected to hear a full-blown band playing Rundgren’s vintage pop-rock material -- in other words, a good percentage of the 366 people in attendance.
Instead, Rundgren delivered a lounge act, featuring scaled-down, all-acoustic, jazz-infused re-workings of material spanning his lengthy, 30-plus-year career. It was not a set for anyone who was less than an avid fan of his most obscure songs.
Although performimg well-executed guitar and vocal work with a confidence that bordered on arrogance, Rundgren was occasionally drowned out by the conversation in the club. Rundgren himself fueled the distraction, alienating members off the audience with inappropriate euphemisms and cynical commentary. Early in his set, Rundgren jokingly asked the audience, "Does anthrax grow on pot?" Only Rundgren was amused.
By the end of his fifth song, Rundgren’s onstage banter had turned from rude to decidingly antagonistic. He desperately mocked hecklers at the bar for getting drunk and pleaded with the crown to police its unseemly behavior. After many failed attempts to get the crowd’s attention, Rundgren announced that he hadn’t "played such a difficult room in years," adding ruefully that he "left Hawaii to come here." His frustrations got the better of him midway through a soft piano ballad, when he stormed off the stage in a huff.
Ironically, the crowd didn’t notice he had left until five minutes later, when Rundgren’s back-up guitarist (and Fountain Hill natice) Jesse Gress came on stage and asked the already sedate crowd to "simmer down," suggesting that the audience must be quieter to appreciate the "subtle nuances" in Rundgren’s performance. After 10 minutes of abject apathy from the peanut gallery, Rundgren retook the stage and boldly proclaimed, "If you came here to drink and run your mouth, there’s a bar out front – take your ass there!"
Rundgren and Gress then began playing to backing tracks, and the fuller arrangements seemed to garner some attention. Pre-fab bossa-nova rhythms and recorded sax lines gave the all-acoustic performance a bit of a lift. However, Rundgren’s "With a Twist" stylings did little to alleviate the overall monotony that set in for the remainder of the performance.
Although the audience was not transfixed by Rundgren’’s show, crowd members were far from unruly. The occasional heckler and din of conversation are par for the course in such a venue, and the worst of the lot on Wednesday night certainly did not warrant Rundgren’s childish overreaction. If Rundgren doesn’t want to perform for people who enjoy drinking and socializing, perhaps he should stop playing concerts in bars and clubs.