But when Rundgren hit the stage that feeling was forgotten for quite a while. He was dressed in a smooth-looking light brown suit-- gabardine?--some kind of nice material, anyway--with a Hawaiian shirt on underneath. His shoulder-length hair was two-toned, with a bleached blonde top over a naturally brown undergrowth. He wore amber-lensed sunglasses...many photos from earlier recent shows are fully evocative of Todd's appearance at the Anaheim HOB show. Strapping on a black Takamine cutaway dreadnought acoustic, he whipped into Lysistrata, an anti-war song from the Swing To The Right album. The sound in the club was good. I noticed stacks of Electro-Voice speakers on the stage and we had walked past a rather large and impressive mixing desk on our way to the open floor. The soundman did a good job overall although Todd had to stop during a song and yell "Fix it!" at one point due to monitor feedback. The volume level out front was right at the verge of unpleasant without hovering in the hurtful zone all night.
Todd's fans were very excited to see him again. In the days prior to the show, I thought back to the seven times I had seen him perform in the past, from the 1971-or -2 show at the Roxy in LA with the Hello People as his backup group through several Utopia concerts and a solo show at Perkins Palace in Reseda. He has aged along with the rest of us, but the ease and energy with which he performs is still awe-inspiring. His wide vocal range is still there--soaring falsetto flights with great smooth vibrato to full-blown shredded screams with plaintive, sensual moans along the way. Todd sounded a touch tired--who wouldn't be after a run of shows like this?--but overall his voice was amazing.
About the second song, Todd broke a string on the black Takamine and had to switch to a similar but natural-topped guitar. That was to our benefit as the second guitar had a much more lively sound with sweet high-end, whereas the black guitar had sounded duller and more boxy. He wound up playing the natural-topped guitar the rest of the night. Later at one point it fell off of its stand but no damage occurred. Todd asked "what was the chain of events that led up to that?" because he wasn't standing near the guitar when it fell.
What's most impressive about Todd? Is it his voice, his solid guitar accompaniment, his songwriting brilliance? It's all of those plus his easy-going stage presence and willingness to give his all. He stopped between songs frequently to talk to the crowd, displaying the improvisational skill of a standup comic with funny comments and actions. Kat was thrilled to finally get a chance to see him perform, and from only forty feet away (!). There seemed many times when he was speaking directly to us personally. He seemed to glance our way often and it was as if his eyes connected with ours. More than just good showmanship, it was really comforting that after all the miles and years, one can still feel the same connection to this major musical icon. That's not overstating the case--no one else consistently impressed me with songwriting and playing skills over the years in quite the way that Todd has done. I've followed his music for thirty-five years and he's always been a beacon of creativity and integrity.
He rocked, he pleaded, he scat-sang, and he wailed. His acoustic guitar accompaniment was not astounding, but it was so solid that it allowed listeners to "fill in the blanks"' giving a very satisfying sound for one guy and a guitar. Unlike the opener, Todd played riffs and patterns that recall the whole sound of a group. I watched his fretting fingers, trying to figure out some of the grips he was using.
Todd's piano-playing was serviceable and provided opportunity to hear some of his wonderful ballads along with comedic shtick that was very entertaining. At one point he announced he was taking a new direction in music and would require a full eighty-piece orchestra and not one piccolo less. The crowd went dead-silent at first as if believing his announcement, but it became obvious he was teasing around when he started Hello It's Me by playing the first few notes repeatedly as a sort of classical motif.
Todd played for about two-and-a-half hours. For a stretch of maybe thirty minutes, he employed a digital playback device for accompaniment, doing tunes from the Bossa Nova album With A Twist. As accompaniment to his live singing, the backup recordings came off beautifully and the crowd was swaying to the gentle and soothing music. Todd didn't play during this segment but sat on a stool in front of the mic stand, allowing him to use his arms and hands to accentuate the music. Some other reviewers have expressed disappointment with the Twist versions of Todd's tunes, but this night they worked very well indeed.
Toward the end of the show, he switched back and forth between guitar and piano a few more times, ending his second encore with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On? played on acoustic guitar.
When Todd signed autographs on album covers and a license plate that read "LO ITS ME," I wished I could have taken the Wizard Star guitar that I built in 1978 and had him autograph it! But of course, it would have been awfully unwieldy in its awkward form-fitting case. He signed a few artifacts from the front of the stage and shook some hands, then waved goodbye as he exited stage right.
I couldn't help but wonder if and when we might hear Todd perform again. Back around 1973, I was referred to a luncheon gig by the folks at Lopez Music House in San Bernardino...it turned out to be for a group of psychics! They payed me $50 to perform for an hour or so. Afterward, they each came up and said something to me. One fellow said "I see a small man near you." Immediately it had meaning for me, since Todd's first solo album was named Runt (nickname derived from Rundgren--Todd's about six feet tall.) That was really a weird meeting but afterward I wished I'd had more time to talk with the psychics. I should have paid them $50 for the reading!
Our heartfelt thanks to Dave and Jenny for inviting us along for an incredible evening. Todd's 11/23/03 performance at the Anaheim House of Blues was a very fine night--one to remember and cherish.