Review of Todd in Nashville 7/16/03

Review by Martin Brady (Switch to

After a two-month layoff in Hawaii from his national tour, Todd Rundgren returned to the contiguous 48 states to perform at Nashville's Uptown Mix outdoors beer, food, and music shindig. There was nothing particularly new or unusual about this gig, compared to his previous tour appearances in 2003. As near as could be determined, the lineup of songs was pretty much the same--most everything from the '70s and '80s--with the show divided up among solo acoustic guitar, solo piano, and MP3 sets. And yes, he played the ukelele for "Bang the Drum." The good news is that, despite some technical challenges, he put on a marvelous show. It's gotten to the point where the little flaws in Todd's playing have become what we call "de rigueur"--almost socially obligatory and/or expected. He offered a disclaimer: "Piano is not my first instrument...and I haven't practiced!" he said as he sat down at the baby grand onstage. It remains a mystery why he flubs the chord changes in "Hello, It's Me," a song he wrote with the group Nazz in the late '60s. (The original Nazz recording was guitar-based, so no doubt it was a guitar-written tune. Fine. Nevertheless, Todd's been doing this as a keyboard number for 30 years, so the gaffes are surprising.) One possible explanation: Todd has lowered the song's key and is now playing in a less-familiar "sharp" key? Possibly a learning curve problem? Just a guess, of course. He goofed the beginning of "Compassion" as well; then he took a deep breath, and went into it again with general success. As he has done at previous shows, he busted a guitar string, this time on the opening song "Lysistrata," which elicited a humorous Todd-ism: "We're in Nashville. You think there's someone here who knows how to put on a guitar string?" The TR voice was in pretty fine form throughout the evening. The show was two hours long, and Todd was his usual witty self in between-song banter, including remarks about his reluctance to wear a cowboy hat ("Nashville isn't really cowboy country, you know. It's the home of the country gentleman"; also, "Did Garth Brooks have hair BEFORE he started wearing a hat?"). He also leveled a shot at Attorney General John Ashcroft. He was particularly cool in dealing with the fractured ambience created by a horde of motorcycles that roared past the concert stage, saying, "Okay, let me guess...this is the street that the motorcycles went up and down on BEFORE they decided to put a stage here...?"

I didn't bother to make a song list. What I remember, in addition to the others listed above (in no particular order): "One World," "Love of the Common Man," "Cliche," "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" (some brief piano challenges there), a Marvin Gaye tune, two Beatles covers, "Can We Still Be Friends," "Song of the Viking," "Young, Free & 21," "I Saw the Light," "I Don't Wanna Tie You Down" (interesting guitar version of an original keyboard song). Also a jazzed-up rendition of "Born to Synthesize," which is completely unlike the original "mystical" recitative arrangement. The surprise of the evening was a very moving version of "Influenza."

The audience was typically Todd-cool. All good folks and dedicated to their hero and his free-thinking, freewheeling philosophy and humanistic impulses. An older fellow with long gray hair and a gray beard was front and center at Todd's feet, just grooving and nodding all night long. I don't think the guy ever moved an inch. Nailing down an estimate of the crowd number is difficult. Uptown Mix is also a very social event. But the crowd near the stage was united in purpose. I would guess maybe 3,000 strong in all.

There were repeated shouts from the crowd for requests, which were generally ignored. Maybe once Todd complied. Fans wanted to hear "The Range War" from Todd's second solo LP (as a nod in the direction of country music--it being Nashville and all); "Just One Victory"; "We Gotta Get You a Woman"; "Real Man"; "Couldn't I Just Tell You"; "Hawking"; "Fidelity"; and "Love Is the Answer." He did none of these gems, though it might be pointed out that all are either piano or electric guitar songs, or simply so studio-oriented that pulling them off realistically would be beyond the powers of a one-man band. The MP3 set, including the newer "With a Twist" CD arrangements, was successful, to be sure. But in light of the fact that Todd can't play his electric guitar at these gigs, it almost makes one yearn for those clunky olden days when he did a huge music-minus 1 concert accompanied by song tracks with him filling in the guitar and vocal.

It's a kinder, gentler Todd we see here, and the scaled-back parameters of a solo tour mean an equivalent control in the kind of music that he plays. Now there's not a thing wrong with that. And the man's brilliance still shines through. At this point, call it pure aura. I guess if you asked the average Joe on the street, "Do you know who Todd Rundgren is?" he would scratch his head and stare and wonder, then say, "Hmmm....I'm not sure..." Nevertheless, it's been an amazing career, and it's a joy to see TR still making devoted crowds so happy. After the concert, Todd stopped to sign autographs and talk warmly with fans. The man is beloved--of that there is no doubt.

Next stop: St. Louis--home state of John Ashcroft!!

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7/16/2003 - Uptown Mix - Nashville, TN

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