A cell phone rings. The whole night we are on slight edge as my friend Lee's neighbor, Chris, is expecting his wife to go into labor at any moment... the possibility of his attendance had been in jeopardy from the start. The jolt passes to relief when we realize it was Lee's jingle noise. It's his wife on the line calling from her passing car, "Are you in that line of old people I just passed?"
Amanda, one of the friend's of a friend who had ventured out with us, was a professed "not so much a Todd fan" but she knew who he was and knew the song LOVE OF THE COMMON MAN. Throughout the wait she mentioned more than once that if he played that she would go home happy. Conversing with Chris reveals he hails from New York and can't even recall how many Todd shows he has seen. (Envy.)
Quick attempts at meeting other listers by uttering the password "Beyond Awizard" meet with only one score, but it was pleasurable. It's nice to be assured that "real people" post to the list. One surprise contact (not from on-line) came from a woman just ahead of us when she mentions (without naming them) this great cover band from Cleveland. She nearly picks me up hugging me when I say "Fayerwehter!?" That was cool. But the moment passes in haste as the line is moving toward the now open doors.
The Roxy is a converted old movie theater with all the ornate feeling and fixtures; the entry halls have been converted to little Rock and Roll museum-type displays and cash bars. We file past the T-shirt stand (where nothing notable strikes my interest) into the theater proper where our first surprise awaits: instead of movie seat rows we find folding chairs. My ass groans before I find a place in anticipation of being planted on the cold metal for the next four hours. We stake our claim in two rows about dead center of the venue, and I saunter up to the balcony to compare views and then circle pass the stage checking out the equipment. Looks like perhaps from 500-700 seats at fast reckoning. Three quarters full within 15 minutes. Will it fill? My mind hasn't relaxed yet.
On the way up in prominent display is a huge, signed HERMIT poster. It appears to be a permanent fixture. The upstairs has the original padded seats, but no real other advantage over our selection below. The spitballs I toss at my buds attract no attention whatsoever. Extreme forward sections are taped off for unknown VIPs yet to arrive. The faint hope that Liv might appear at any moment adds a tingle to the pre-show air.
Up front I see two acoustic guitars to the right, and one acoustic to the left... Todd's I assume. Center stage is a medium-sized white keyboard instrument (the experimental one who's name escapes me, I figure) and the bigger black one we had seen rolled in while on the street. Snicker.
With hardly time for one round of drinks, I make Todd talk with another out-of-towner who joined our group, Joe. We quickly determine that our paths crossed at least once at the '99 Odeon show. Unfortunately, I missed the part back then where an eager woman in the crowd was dancing with everyone in sight trying to make her hulk of a boyfriend jealous. Joe assures me that anyone in the vicinity would recall this. We both concur that the Half Twisted performance with Prairie on drums was the high point of the last 5 years, at least.
Lights go down right at 9 and Royston casually approaches the center picking up one of the two instruments on the left. His bulky and weathered gray jacket and orange cap give him the appearance of a huntsman. Later, between his set and Todd's, he reveals to me and those around him at the merchandise table that the hat was his marker of recognition for tonight. But the cap goes off after the first number and his resemblance to Christopher Walken becomes my footnote for later encounters (if any). The buzz about potential attendance by his finace does not give way to any reality of the dream. His heavy English accent is affable as he states he is "obviously not from around these parts."
Toward the end of the set of songs (delivered with power and conviction to a receptive crowd) he makes comment about his current activities in New York. Half way through the short narrative someone yells "What's your name?" and the people laugh. It appeared almost as if he had his own gaggle of fans based on applause and such. My comrades and I all conclude that it is among the best and most-fitting warm-ups for Todd we've seen. (In the back of my mind I wonder how much the family ties positively give him favor, but no matter. He is good.) A stand out moment was his performance with the white mechanism which had advanced synthesized features--or at least pre-recorded sequence retrieval. Kind of spacey. Earlier he had played the Todd-inspired DREAM song on the big black keyboard (this becomes important later). He spoke admirably of Todd the genius and acknowledged this great opportunity for this, his first solo performance experience which was "a bit daunting."
Lights up after he departs, and the second of the memorable moments specific to the Roxy awaits me: the trip to the men's room. On the way I run into ZMAN. He spots my Utopia shirt and introduces himself. He's there, he reports, with Ed. Yeah. THE Ed from the Sushi place. I get a smile from that one. We chat a bit and then nature beckons me continue the quest. As I move on I am struck by the skewed age-range, but also by the number of avant-garde looking types in the crowd. Some flamboyant clothes and hair styles. Still, aside from one guy who brought is 9 year-old, I see no one I'd put under 30--and a crowd distinct from the neighborhood's way-upper class population. Rather than dismay, what I feel, though, is a bit impressed by the now standing room only crowd that has made its way into the place. My brain cannot process the potential conversations and stories of all these fans. I don't even know how to relate to them being so used to being the only person in a room who even knows his name.
Unlike the Hall & Oates, or Abbey Roads appearances, everyone here is for Todd. Lee and I calculate that he could not have appeared more the a couple dozen times ever in Atlanta. His first decade of live shows only resulted in three: Utopia (recorded at the Fox), Ra also in that cool spot, and BTTB at the Agora. There may have been an earlier one in 72--research reveals that he played solo at Augusta College at that time. At any rate, the Runt showing up in Georgia is rare, so my mind keeps gravitating to the possibility of this being some long-time fan's first chance to see him. This thought does not help relieve my nervous state.
Now the line has advanced to the rest room and I get the paradoxical chance to pee into a trough and then get a mint and a brush down from the ancient black attendant. Un-PC as it is, I wonder has he held that position since this fine building's heyday? Others nearby chuckle as I utter "folding chairs and now this... truly memorable." I am struck by the man's nobility.
On the way back to my seat I exchange short words with Royston. The question I will not ask clouds my mind to the point that all I manage to say is "Good show!" and he hands me a simple business card with http://www.roystonlandgon.com stamped on it. "Been there" I say, and he retorts, "I guess I can have the card back then?" grabbing for it in jest. Later I curse myself for at least asking what his plans were after this night.
All this and it's just time for Todd's part. To be continued!
Guitar: LOTCM I DON'T WANT TO TIE DOWN CLICHE TINY DEMONS LYSISTRATA HAMMER MY HEART BANG THE UKE Piano: THE SONG OF THE VIKING [exit] COMPASSION IT WOULDN'T HAVE MADE ANY DIFFERENCE TOO FAR GONE FREE MALE & 21 MP3: I SAW THE LIGHT CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS INFLUENZA I WANT YOU Guitar: YOU'VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY [ANOTHER BEATLES TUNE] LOVE IN ACTION ONE WORLD Encore Piano: HELLO IT'S ME A DREAM GOES ON FOREVER Encore Guitar: THE WHEELVery near 10 p.m. the lights go down again and within seconds Todd enters stage left, unceremoniously dawns the guitar from stage right and approaches the mike. The crowd whoops and there is intermittent screaming to which he babbles "You folks are a rowdy bunch". I make comment to Lee about the blonde-top doo, and he can't get over how old Todd looks. (Lee hasn't seen him since the '80s). "Take a look around the room, bud," is my reply.
[strum] "I've been bur-ur-ur-ur-ur-ur-urned in my prime..." I look at Amanda beaming. Right out of the gate one fan will go home happy. Lee mentions how the voice is still the same. Whew!
The omen: Throughout the initial half of LOVE OF THE COMMON MAN beginning at the first lyric break Our Hero turns around (still playing and not missing a beat) and motions down strongly with his pick hand to unseen persons off stage. This motion is repeated with increasing exaggerated force at least three more times until the monitor level seems to meet his approval. My familiarity with the live format is so great, all I can say is he's not going to be letting any virgin ears down.
Next up was the first of several jewels: I DON'T WANT TO TIE YOU DOWN. It was just f#cking spine-tinglingly beautiful. I'm starting to relax about wondering if my buds will be going away questioning my sanity. And the good stuff was just beginning. LYSISTRATA is in there with a weird poignancy given the times, and done admirably without extra commentary. Chris acknowledges Todd's prowess on the six string. Joe is naming songs almost before Todd starts playing. He's good.
TR quips, "The acoustics in this place are near perfect. The whole time I could hear every single word YOU (a stern finger point to his left) were saying!" The crowd is silent. "I mean, how many people hit on a girl by bragging about how SMALL their penis is?!" (Laughter)
Da man don't won't no distractions.
With the back story via Ed, our little group chuckles and elbows each other when Todd starts to talk about the sorry shape the piano had been in. It was a terse, witty remark followed by the proclamation that the theater must be haunted and in need of exorcism. (Little did he know how that jest would come back to bite him in the @ss). Then the second surprise of the night for me... TINY DEMONS is hauntingly sublime (pun intended, but now that I've said it I regret the joke... the performance was transcendent--and I don't even LIKE that song!) It seems the audio tech at least got the reverb cue, so not all is lost on the crew.
The good-start acoustic set continues with HAMMER, where I seem to notice (but no one else near by as I can tell) that the strumming is a little forced and I fear the ax may explode. The voice is warming up... and so are the peeps. One lanky long-haired chick up a couple rows starts the first of many swaying arm dances of the evening.
This recollection might be out of sequence, but he goes into a long banter about the ancient war song of his new home. After he said he had moved to the islands, somebody we can't hear must have said "what islands?" because it drew out the sarcastic remark "Hawaiian islands... like I'd move to the Aleutians?!" Much laughter. But then he goes on to say he has forgotten to pack his Uke, which cues those in the know that BANG is coming. Right on the mark a woman approaches from his left presenting him with a lay. "I love my fans; they know all the props!" As he puts it on, he promises to use only four strings and delivers as expected. To my ears, this works better without the pint-sized gee-tar. He doesn't look so "Tiny Tim".
He switches to the electric piano and the first crash of the evening ensues. He hits the keys and immediately gripes to what must be quivering roadies by now, "I can't hear anything out of this monitor!" This meets with crowd laughter-one's too loud, the other out completely. Todd bangs hard on the keys asking, "Can you hear this? I can't!" And after what must seem like a year to him, he heaves a heavy sigh and starts playing the VIKING SONG with much aggression. The funny part: HE NAILS IT better than I have ever heard live. Wessa liking deese.
[Audio queue in my head: long record scratch] The audio trouble has not been repaired. Todd has no clue how he sounds--the audience reaction provides some clue. GREAT! But it's an obvious big problem. He tried to move to the guitar but insisted he did not have enough material to continue without the piano."I'm sorry folks, but I'm going to have to leave the stage right now. I'm not going home, I promise. I'm just going to have to leave until they get this straightened out." And off he goes as a half dozen roadies scurry into action, spreading cables and falling over themselves to get it fixed.
10 or 15 minutes pass and he returns to the keys, plays a chord and now nothing comes out at all. "I don't understand it. It worked for the kid!" The anger is peeking out from beneath the mask of humor. More fumbling and flurrying from roadies and things seem to be repaired.
"Shake it off. Deep Cleansing Breaths. There are more important things in life." And out pops a spot on rendition of COMPASSION.
In some order he throttles out FREE MALE (which is better than I recall) TOO FAR GONE (which seems sad and lamentful, but no less beautiful for it) and IWHMAD. Here he baulks heavily in the middle expressing exasperation at missing his mark, but jumps back in and plays through fine for the remainder. I find myself applying the theme to the issue of his live foibles (they don't matter if you love him).
'Time to bring out the band" reaching for the MP3 player and pointing... "The band." I SAW THE LIGHT , CAN WE STILL BE FRIENDS, and INFLUENZA are sung so purely that some question if he is lip-syncing. Anyone paying the least bit of attention would notice the mike is completely live and the commentary balanced exactly with the singing. Faking it that well would be harder than doing it right. Appreciation for the twisted versions goes up a notch despite the distraction of one lone guy walking to center stage on the floor and looking longingly at Todd during FRIENDS. He is ushered off to the side as everyone wonders "what's his deal?"
"Now that you've got your foot in the door, time to move in for the kill." And he scores with Gaye's I WANT YOU . "If you don't have your hand half way up her thigh by now, you just must be a pussy!"
He shuffles back to guitar again as I take note of the couple in the crowd who seem to be sharing the same seats, tongues, and who knows what other body parts. Obviously the effect of the music as noted by Todd is in full play.
YOU'VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE is replete with loud crowd "Hey!"s during the chorus. "Oh, I've found your soft spot" chortles the Runt and he presses the easy pleasure point with another very well received Beatles tune.
Seeming to have fully recovered his stride, he cranks out LOVE IN ACTION (stopping as usual for a bit before the last chorus to contemplate if one can, indeed, stop) and then leg kicks so hard at the end that I sense I'm not the only one fearing a limb is inches away from being broken. The audience delivers impressively in the "Woah-oo-oo-woah"s and people have gravitated to the front in the side rows. Dancing arm girl can't remain seated any longer and the only way she can become more alluring is if the shirt goes.
Final song of the set is ONE WORLD which know one would have known he goofed by singing the second verse first if he hadn't mentioned it while still playing, but the energy is not lost and the ultimate "yeah, yeah, yeah" is sung to long and loud cheers. Off he marches leaving us for a not inordinate amount of time before first encore. Here he would have had the world in is pocket as he does a solo tradition version of HIM on the piano. "I'm dreaming" I think... he hasn't done this since... since... I play all the tapes in my head. BTTB it was with the band and him out front... the twisted version... yeah. Got that. Even back in 72 he did that with a taped background... SH!T!!! My eyes nor ears have never beheld this. I set aside the annoying fist in the air screaming guy two rows up... better to pay more attention to swaying girl. The dream is tenable. I'm horripilated.
But, you guessed it. Mid-song he turns into Mr. Alzheimer and CAN NOT find the chords. He bumbles through for a bit seeming to regain confidence and then says "Here comes the scary part" and it's like Bugs Bunny's "plink plink" sour notes while Daffy's waiting for the explosion if he hits the right key. The waxing cool for the funky fade-out leaves things semi-comfortable and he mumbles something about having pity on him since it's been a rough night.
Determined to not leave us empty-handed, he launches without delay into DREAM and I'm praying "Please, god, let him get this right!" The boy pulls it off! The sweat is almost obvious on his brow and you could see he was angling hard to hit those chords and notes... The crowd is cheering him on. It seems a sincerely affectionate moment.
Had it been a different set of circumstances, it seems he might have left one more time and made us work to bring him back for a third encore, but he says "I used up my extra time already," and he moves back to the guitar. The enchanting single notes of WHEEL emit... I do my best to scream "Hey TODDDDDD!" just at the right moment. A glance and smile from my new Todd friend in front leaves me to believe I hit the mark. The clapping is in time and the song is played brilliantly. The true instruments of guitar and voice are up to snuff and everyone seems well, well pleased with the evening. Todd thanks the crowd and then chants "You have something Louisiana and Florida don't have... A Nobel Prize Winner!" Cheers and hoots continue unabated. "Choose your designated driver and have a safe trip home! Atlanta you ROOL!"
I heave a sigh of relief in satisfaction. He done good. We amble out smiling and already recalling highs and humorous lows. Some people are still stuck in make-put phase, and I am reminded again about how much I like being in the South: land of the white jeans. I count this fourth of my Georgia Todd shows right up there at the top of my list. It's now past midnight and we go out into the night to experience the club scene.. but that's another story. As the days have passed since, my friends and I feel an increase in appreciation for the good times and genuine enjoyment of the night.