Karen and I just got back home to Tucson, from Phoenix (we stayed overnight at a Scottsdale resort) and I am still buzzing from the AWDAR concert that took place at the Celebrity Theatre (performed in the round on a rotating stage) 24 hours ago...
The concert had a very different feel (vibe) than last year's show. This year's line-up changes are (as should be expected) a mixed bag in terms of; the impact on the performances of songs from the Beatles catalog, the band's onstage chemistry and the overall concert enjoyment level. Those of you who experienced last year's AWDAR tour (but have yet to see this year's version) will certainly notice the significant contrast between tours/line-ups.
At least on this evening, Todd was (without question) the most dominant force on stage... each time Todd sauntered up to the microphone, with or without guitar in hand, he elevated the show's energy level and stage presence significantly (with the odd exception being his lukewarm performance of "Hello It's Me"). He served as the bandleader (counting in the songs whenever he was onstage), leading the banter with the audience and handling most of the lead-vocal responsibilities during the second half of the show. Most Todd fans will be thrilled to hear him performing such a wide range of new live material (and not merely the same recycled solo show that has been floating around for the past few years... (The Power Trio tour notwithstanding). The show also included a touching send up to AWDAR alumnus, John Entwhistle, recreating The Who's "My Generation"... sung passionately by TR and featured his take on Pete Townshend's windmill guitar work... Truly a memorable part of the concert. Whenever he was onstage, Todd seemed to be the center of attention.
It really seems as though Todd is having a great deal of fun on this tour (last year's AWDAR effort seemed to be tinged with an underlying cynicism and distance with the audience). Last night, Todd really just let his hair down and had fun. I also think that not having to dominate on lead guitar (although he clearly nailed a number of solid lead guitar solos throughout the night) freed him up to perform with a level of vitality and passion that seem to have been missing from his performances in recent years.
As for the Todd's AWDAR Band-mates...
Anyone who has ever seen Christopher Cross perform will readily acknowledge that he is the antithesis of a rock star... stocky... balding (covered with a baseball cap) and passive on stage. But his musical/songwriting talent cannot be denied... Cross' sweet high voice (carrying most of McCartney's vocal parts throughout the night) complimented Rundgren's (Lennonesque) vocals beautifully. Additionally, his guitar playing turned out to be far more proficient than many (in attendance) realized (myself included).
Even though TR produced two gold/platinum selling GFR albums… I have to preface that I have never been much of a Grand Funk Railroad fan. Mark Farner (while loveable) was really goofy onstage. Farner’s dated hip-shaking antics were (kind of embarrassing) really out of place. His limited musical skills were (for me) a waste of musical space. Although he really seemed to be having a good time performing and warmly reached out to the crowd… his talent (or lack thereof) was IMO the weakest link of the show.
Alan Parson’s 3-song segment was very similar to last year’s performance. Solid band support resulted in the delivery of performances that sounded exactly like the originals on APP’s records. If you like Alan Parson’s project material (I certainly do), you will enjoy this segment of the concert. Parsons (by choice) relegated himself into the background for much of the show (which is consistent with the role he has played throughout his musical career)… as a solid composer/arranger and project leader.
Jack Bruce's dynamic bass playing (reflecting passion and virtuosity during each song) set a solid foundation (he was the only star who played the entire first set) throughout the evening. His enthusiasm and focus was as evident when supporting Christopher Cross and Mark Farner's 3-song solo segments, as it was when he was spotlighted during his own 3-song segment. "Sunshine of Your Love" was downright transcendent and "White Room" built to a thundering crescendo that shook the 2800 seat theater to the rafters.
The Supporting Cast... The three exceptional (non-credited) musicians who (without question) anchored the show were: Godfrey Townsend (guitar) Steve Murphy (drums) and John Beck (keyboards).
Godfrey Townsend easily handled the full range of supporting guitar lines and rhythms and (whenever called upon) either faithfully recreated guitar solos as they were originally recorded or (whenever he was given the opportunity) really cut lose with blazing solos that ripped though the Celebrity Theatre. When paired with Jack Bruce on "Sunshine of Your Love" and "White Room"... they brought the house down!
Steve Murphy's musical chops were extremely strong... While his brilliant drumming was never overbearing... he effortlessly executed complex fills and locked the band into a hypnotic backbeat whenever it was appropriate. His polyrhythms during Jack Bruce’s "Cream" set were brilliant.
In addition to meticulously recreating the lush (George Martin) orchestration and multi-layered Alan Parson's Project synthesizer textures... John Beck's keyboard work was stellar throughout the evening.
I had the good fortune to being able to go backstage at a number of TR/Utopia shows when I lived in Chicago. However, my 29 year admiration of Todd and his music has never gone so far as leading to hero-worship or making me star struck in his presence...
Although I have a fairly large TR/Utopia/Nazz memorabilia collection (accumulated as a fan for almost 3 decades) ... I have never been one to stick around after Todd's shows in an attempt to get him to autograph pieces from my collection. However, John Entwhistle's abrupt (recent) passing changed my outlook about this significantly. I decided before last night's show to bring a few interesting items and attempting to get him to sign them. Todd signed the items without hesitation and posed for a picture with me. He commented (while signing the “Be Nice to me” sheet music I handed to him), “Now this is really old”.
Todd graciously signed autographs, posed for pictures and greeted the (approximately 50) fans that waited around for him after the concert. He couldn't have been nicer and really seemed to be riding the high from leading this exceptional concert. It was great seeing Scott Harvey (TRBAZAAR.com) after the concert, along with the other TR fans Karen and I enjoyed chatting with. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer and more satisfying end to a great evening!
(BTW - Our 35mm photos from the concert will be forthcoming… Sadly, the digital camera apparently needs new batteries so it was worthless at the concert).