Review of TR's Kalamazoo show 072503

Review by Christopher Hill (Switch to

Kalamazoo, Michigan, is the halfway point between Detroit and Chicago, a 2 1/2-hour drive from either direction. But a welcome drive for someone who didn't get wind about Todd Rundgren's scheduled concert at The Ark in Ann Arbor until all 300 tickets had disappeared. Thankfully, my new friend (Hall & Oates fan turned TR message board contributor) emailed me with news of an extra second-row seat for his July 25 performance at Kazoo's State Theater. That was all I needed to hear before pointing my car west.

Greeting me at the door of the State Theater was a "no cameras allowed" sign. I've never been denied the use of a camera at a Todd show (and a still camera at that). So, being the crusty 40-year old that I am, I did the sensible thing. I crotched it. As it turned out, the crack theater staff didn't bother to search me for the thing; in fact, no one even stopped me to ask for a ticket. I basically walked right in, all the way to the second row, unchecked. If I could do it, so could anyone, right? I mean, how scary is that, that our beloved, invincible Todd Rundgren is this vulnerable to attack? Instead of simply dealing with yet another "There goes Todd!" from the crowd, he could be confronted by some knife-wielding German tennis nut... or worse!

Anyway, the lights dropped and TR entered stage left, amid a pyrotechnics display rivaling that of a Willie Nelson show. Whereas Willie used a full row of overhead track lights to illuminate the four folding chairs and rebel flag that comprised his set, Todd played alone under two white pots. Individualist turned minimalist. Self-imposed brown-out notwithstanding, it sure was hot up there. Those two lights created a furnace-like effect, transforming the stage into a Burger King glow ray. "I feel like I'm in an Easy-Bake oven!" Todd proclaimed after his first song, Lysistrata (where, as scripted, he broke his first string during the first verse).

TR's crooner strained and crackled early on, but turned remarkably smooth and rich the rest of the way, with a scratchy, soulful depth that enhanced the opening numbers. "I Don't Want To Tie You Down", arranged for the acoustic guitar, was brilliant; the marvelously powerful "Black And White" gave us the requisite dose of heavy metal Todd; and "Beloved Infidel" became one of the best songs of the night. Of all that TR has written that he would ever rearrange as an acoustic piece, the last I could possibly imagine would be "Born To Synthesize". Next, please welcome Jimi Hendrix and his banjo rendition of "Electric Ladyland". Leave it to Todd to redefine reverse anachronism (assuming it's ever been defined).

Adding to the night's entertainment was Todd's brand of humor, as dead-on as his music. The Easy-Bake metaphor (his words) became a running bit. And it seems "Sex In The City" has replaced "Dallas" as pop culture reference material. At one point he approached the mic and encountered a strand of hair stuck in its sock. He pulled it off, let it go and as it fluttered to the ground he pointed to it and said, "That's my career". If this is his loss, it's our gain. I'd take small, packed theaters over the quarter-filled auditorium venues any day. The sold-out performance at The Ark on Monday will be nothing short of epic.

So after a half-dozen songs, Todd put the six-string down and approached the piano. I'll never get tired of hearing "Song Of The Viking" live. And thanks to the lax albeit bizarre theater rules (no still cameras but you can bring drinks to your seat), we could slosh our grog as we sang along. "Compassion" was nice, though he screwed up the second verse. I've never heard TR mess up so many songs over the course of an evening--three in all, including "Hello It's Me" and "It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference" (I think that was the other one). But he seamlessly kept rolling, and he sounded incredible.

The first part of the show was easily the strongest. I've personally grown tired of the ukelele bit. This novelty has reached its half-life. I'd almost welcome back the old hockey-anthem top 40 hit, with the snare drums and the handful of drunken fans pounding away onstage (only because I was one of those lucky drunken fans in the '80s). "Hide Your Love Away" seemed an appropriate tribute to my favorite Beatle, although he did play it back in 2000 when George was alive and well (recovering from a stab wound, but alive nonetheless). And "I Saw A Face" is one of my more favorite L/M toe-tappers. I'm not sure John heard Lorne Greene in the bridge, yet still, two worthy Beatle covers, dutifully performed.

Then, Todd grabbed The Box. I echo the sentiments of other reviewers when I say, please, enough. As much as I love the bossa nova version of "I Saw The Light", why can't it end there? Why can't he do the one song, tip his hat to "With A Twist" and hit the "stop" button? I'd much rather hear "Can We Still Be Friends?" on the keys; the lounge mix saps the emotion out of what was/is an emotionally powerful piece of music. And with his vocal chords sounding as hot as the twin white lights above him, that number could have brought the house down were it played as it should have been. If that didn't cross the threshold, then "I Want You" surely did. Remember the flap over ELO's live concerts in the '70s, when it was discovered they played pre-recorded strings to fill out the sound in their live performances? Okay maybe you don't, but there was flap. Nowadays, the audience can forgive the karaeoke for a song or two. They can even forgive that the only things they're actually hearing live are the artist's voice and the sound of an orange. But when that artist isn't even singing his own songs, you've got to draw the line. Mercy, mercy me.

I really don't mean to go off here, especially when this is one of the better TR concerts I've ever seen. There were no Fab Four or a capella gimmicks, no rap music, no being upstaged by Ringo Starr (of all people). There was just Todd, his wonderful music, two guitars, a piano, a tiny silver box, two white-hot lights, an orange and two bottles of what we were led to believe was water. That's it. In a small theater gathering as intimate as a campfire. If you love Todd and haven't seen this tour yet, get a ticket and enjoy. Just don't shout out that you're in love with him.

Other reviews for Miscellaneous Dates 2003
7/25/2003 - Kalamazoo State Theatre - Kalamazoo, MI

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