What struck me that night, the first of my now 13 Todd shows, was how the guy could rip out songs that turned his male audience Pavlovian, then slow down and effortlessly pour out something so etherial that women would rush to the front of the stage, roses in hand, in hopes of an "Aloha from Hawaii" encounter. This to me was the work of a genius. It was pure Todd, however you sliced it.
So when I realized that my chance to see Mr. Rundgren in town this summer was as an undercard to Hall and Oates, I pushed aside my initial "Way too weird!" thoughts and figured, this could be a surprisingly good show. After all, H&O accompanied TR quite admirably on his "Back To The Bars" live album 25 years ago, and besides, they're Philly boys as well. Additionally, Darryl Hall cut an absolutely marvelous album with none other than Robert Fripp in the late '70s, "Sacred Songs"-- a rolling sea of quirky yet surreal pop songs that seemed to instill hope that maybe this luscious tenor voice longed to do more than woo the female persuasion. Regardless, my friends were still ready and willing to leave en masse after Todd's set.
Todd took the stage alone with the obligatory anti-establishment rant ("This will always be THE KNOB, not D-T-E Energy Theater"), grabbed his trusty acoustic and strummed away. "Love Of The Common Man", then "Cliché". Just Todd, his guitar, and what was left of his vocal chords. A treasure to witness from seventh row. The band then joined him onstage for "Hit Me Like A Train" and "Buffalo Grass". Enjoy the man and his music, and relax, ladies, the hits will come. Songs appeared from the playlist that deserved the widespread fawning of the marquis draw. Why the Paul Youngs of the world didn't cover "I'm Looking At You (But I'm Talking To Myself)" is a mystery. The song was performed beautifully, even with TR's strained vocals and no-nonsense stage show. His "Love Is The Answer" rendition reaffirmed its worthiness as the Top 40 England Dan cover. The classic "Hello It's Me", dialed-down "Parallel Lines" and spiritual "Rock Love" closed a wonderful yet brief set (with no encores, and no "Hammer In My Heart" either), played to a still-filling yet appreciative audience. "I'll see you in a little while!" Todd yelled as he left.
Then Hall and Oates took the stage. Darryl's Dafoe-like grin peered out below overgrown blonde locks as he jumped from old to new and back, keeping the '80s females in their seats until the breaking point. When the time was right, the hits rolled down like an orgasmic avalanche. "I Can't Go For That" turned into "One On One" only then to become "Maneater". The wives let go of their husband's hands and lept to their feet. Brian Wilson smiled. And you could see in Darryl's eyes that look, the look that this is what it was all about to him. It was no joke, he loved every minute, and what anybody else saw as ironic fate seemed to sail high over his head into the acoustically-perfect bowl above the amphitheater.
The first two H&O encores, "Can We Still Be Friends?" and "I Saw The Light", told the whole story. Todd, Darryl and John harmonized away, holding at bay the screams of delirious thirty- and fortysomethings. The man onstage with the Philly duo, the man who wrote the words and melodies they were performing, had admitted the songs in his specially selected, fan-friendly set were among his least favorite. The "hits" never were challenging enough for the guy. So this tour, he left the more interesting stuff behind, and in so doing fit in surprisingly well with the headliners. As I walked to my car, I couldn't help wondering if it was really worth it. For Darryl and John, for Todd, for me. Todd's show was a treat as always, but I should have left when my friends did.