Todd at the Somerville Theatre

Review by Dan Styklunas (Switch to

The Somerville Theatre is an old movie house that first opened in 1914, and in fact still shows movies in addition to live performance. It’s a cozy 600-seater, with the original Aztec art deco designs still somewhat intact. After all these years, it’s the first time I’ve seen Todd fans clutching tubs of popcorn and twizzlers as they scoped out their seats. Todd even joked midway "How many of you really came here to see Charlie’s Angels 2?"

Todd wandered onstage around 9 pm, and without hesitation launched into "Lysistrata." Clearly, in addition to not practicing piano, Todd doesn’t warm up his voice either, as he struggled to hit and hold notes. But he compensated well by putting more attitude into the guitar, and his voice warmed up nicely as the evening progressed.

"I Don’t Want to Tie You Down" followed, a good choice to stretch out those vocals, with its nice melodic jumps and long whole notes. Then "Black and White," and it was here that the set started to get away from him. He stopped midway to let the guitar feed back to show the soundman what level he needed… "Turn it down until it stops doing this." (laughter.) And maybe there was a little too much attitude on that Takamine, as he broke a string, then another, but stuck it out ‘til the song’s end.

Then he picks up his other acoustic, sees that has a broken string also, and says "What the eff-you-see-kay is going on?" So the newest form of interactivity at a Todd show continues when he solicits someone from the audience to change his guitar strings. There was more… there’s always more… tangled cords, unbalanced tables, etc…. and he handled it well, was very relaxed through the snafus, and the entire evening in general. It was refreshing to hear him take songs with relaxed tempos and not rush things.

So what to do? No guitar, and too early for the piano set… hmmm… "The whole A Cappella album maybe?" No such luck, over to the piano it was, for "Song of the Viking" and a nice reading of "It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference." Then, kudos to the volunteer guitar tech with an offer for a coupon for a free roast beef sandwich.

So now he had guitar, and did travel, tuning up with "Beloved Infidel," through "Love of the Common Man" and "Lunatic Fringe." I love this cover choice, though it didn’t have quite the verve as the first time I heard it… still, it rocked.

Then back to piano for ‘Compassion" and I think it was here that we got "Free, Male, and 21." I thought I heard a voice in the back of my head saying "I hate this song," but alas, no… it was the guy behind me. "Hey Bahhhstahn, It’s Me" followed, with a funny intro, leading us to believe he was debuting a new piece of serious music. It was actually the best version I’ve heard him do in years, and taking it at a slower pace means fewer blown chords and some nice soulful singing.

Back to center stage for the Hawaiian "Bang the Drum," and more guitar for the Beatles’ "Hide Your Love Away" and the country-fried "I’ve Just Seen A Face," with a country-bashing version of Lorne Greene’s "Endless Prairie" thrown in for comic effect. Any marginal Todd fans must have been scratching their heads on this one. And the scratching didn’t stop as the farcical medley continued with "Born to Synthesize," redone as a dizzy shuffle, with the Jetsons theme thrown in. This was a real highlight for me, very different from the original, with more humor. (A little more humanity, please…)

Then, the mp3 set… and the bloody player had to be reset. "Is that an iPod?" someone asked. No, it wasn’t… one has to wonder why not, what with Todd’s preference for Apple products, and the fact that they’re more stable. Anyway, we got "I Saw the Light," "Influenza" and "Can We Still Be Friends," with Todd mucking it up throughout, going over the top with literally miming every line. "Have you ever seen Todd be this silly?" my wife asked. The answer would be no, never this silly… at least not in this context, and that’s saying something. Clearly he is bored with this portion of the set.

What was interesting was that as he segued into Marvin Gaye’s "I Want You," still with the digital backing band, the miming stopped. He still waved his hands expressively, but all the eye-poking and manic tomfoolery disappeared. If only he would give his own songs such respect… I know that’s the feeling of those that don’t see Todd all that often.

My take on the mp3 set is I don’t care that he uses it; it’s how he uses it. For those that think this is new, may I remind you that Todd used to open Utopia shows and perform on Don Kirshner and the like in 1974 and ’75 by singing along with reel-to-reel tapes. Same concept… though back then it was more of a chance to show off his prodigious skills. "It’s all ME!" he would say. Now it is more of a case of convenience. But if he didn’t yuk it up through the songs I think fewer fans would bemoan this part of the set. As others have said, there are times when Todd really does better with a good backing band, and this is one of those times.

A rousing "One World" closed the set. (I may have some of the set list out of order.) Anyway, having a band would be a benefit here as well, as fans tried to clap along, but Todd wasn’t giving them a solid enough groove. Still, he did it well… he clearly is not bored singing this one. "The Wheel" was the first encore, and again with a nice languid tempo that served it well. So languid, in fact, that he had the crowd s-l-o-w d-o-w-n the clapping at the end. Not an easy thing to do… stopping the hands of time.

The only chills I got the entire evening came next, with "What’s Going On." I’m sure many were thinking what I was thinking as he sang "Brother, brother, brother… there's far too many of you dying…" (For those out-of-towners, Somerville borders Cambridge, the liberal capital of the East.) What a great song, and hard to believe Todd’s been doing this regularly for 15 years now. No goofing around here, a sublime moment.

The evening ended with "A Dream Goes On Forever." Let’s hope it does indeed. And The Dream will surely benefit from some new material, as we’ve been promised later this year. This morning on my way to work I was listening to "Second Wind" from the Live in Chicago ’91 CD. (Best live recording I have ever heard of Todd by the way… get it if you can.) As Todd sang "Flow like tempest, flow like cyclone," with me driving through a downpour, it occurred to me that Todd wrote about growing old 12 years ago. Let’s hope he’s got a 3rd Wind in him… my chips are down that he does. If you’re still holding your chips, then as the old Something/Anything ad teased, "Go ahead… ignore him."

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7/31/2003 - Somerville Theatre - Somerville, MA

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