Ted Runger and The Liars- the Rock and Soul 1964 World's Fair of The Future!

Review by Ken Davis (Switch to

As of course, a longtime fan of TR, one who sees through rose colored glasses (as does TR now!) and who has been described as a TR apologist, I can't avoid some degree of subjectivity- however I will attempt to describe this opening show as honestly as I can so those who anticipate this tour will have some idea of the spectacle that awaits them! The theatre itself was a little hard to find, buried like a dvd easter egg in a cyber maze, wending your way through a surreal array of flashings and electronic sound from slot machines of every phylum. But it was a very attractive venue with a proscenium arch and balcony and what where I sat were reasonably good acoustics. I shared one third of a table with a very nice couple named Steve and Diane- Weavil who had been supposed to use the other ticket actually sat at the table in front of me, though we exchanged high fives at regular intervals. The stage itself- think of the pod tour with a cathedral shaped mini truss frame of each musician- Prairie to the left, then Kasim, Jesse and finally John Ferenzik and a wider one around Ted. Embedded in these trusses- think surburban television antenna tower- were mini LED spotlghts- some in round configurations- some in rectangles in every rainbow shade of the modern bubble jet printer. The immediate impression was- computerized indoor electronic fireworks (one can imagine why Ted would glom onto this- besides being new and high tech, another "first", etc.) This array of lighting refocuses the old capability of traditional stage lighting on each individual musician so that rather than- say, a red stage with blue spots- these LEDs would flash alternately red and blue in synchronization all over the stage- and in a strobing effect that was epileptically intense (but more on that later ; )

Additionally each musician other than Ted had their own backdrop with horizontal bars of color that were sync'd with the LED mini christmas light clusters. I'd love to know who did the lighting/stage design- it's very striking- in the much the same way that the pyramid and "Maurice" the Sphinx were for earlier eras of TR's stages.

Truth opened the show as noted elsewhere with Kasim, Jesse and John all playing keyboards. Prairie seemed to be both playing the drums live- as well as triggering some loops- but he was the one member of the band I did not have a good view of and I can't say for sure- someone else will have to confirm this. Ted was wearing an ornate red and gold brocade duster coat over a black shirt with red ruffles down the front and black velvet pants. He seemed to be in particularly fine voice, getting down with the funk and eager to debut his new material. Ted's hair now seemed colored in a "reverse skunk" with the top dark and the sides lightened- it actually reminds me of a recent picture I've seen of the youngest Runger's hair. Though I couldn't get a good look at Prairie's outfit behind his kit, Kas was dressed as a priest, Jesse as a mandarin and John wore a fez.

Buffalo Grass found Ted taking off his coat for some push mower power chord meditations. Kasim picked up his bass and Jesse his guitar for the first time of the evening a house rocking event from all appearances. I must point out that the bass was overwhelming but not in a distorted annoying manner- more like a physical presence. Some of Kasim's bass licks actually shook the table and danced the glasses and beer bottles across the top! "We've had five days to rehearse and we've actually learned half our material," Ted deadpans to nervous laughter. "So we're gonna practice in front of you..." In the spirit of the "Second Wind Live Sessions" the following two and half hour feature showcase of "TR In The 21st And A Quarter Percent Century" is cast with a loose but very talented quartet of musicians who apparently still haven't learned quite all the songs (or ten of them anyway) from "Liars" as yet. The new

Mammon was overwhelming live and Jesse' passionate guitar solo was right up front in the mix and it was the ultimate segue into a ferocious

Fascist Christ. This tune intro'd the LED strobe effect in sync with shifting color backdrops. TR first strapped on his "Foamy" for a footstompin' thrash through I Hate My Frickin ISP, set to appropriate LED'd starbursts of blue and green. Ted's notorious seafoam green, Project P, strat design guitar was his only choice all evening- he even used it on a couple of solo numbers in mid-set (allowing the band to change clothes- but I'll get back to that in a minute...) Red bands of solid light and winking tiny white ones underscore a pulsing, driven Unloved Children as Ted prowls the edge of the stage, dancing and giving with the hand jive. While My Guitar Gently Weeps is an unexpected tour de force of six string lamentation, consider all the stops pulled out here with Jesse backing TR up on the rhythm and trading licks before Ted's ultimate guitar solo etches a cutglass symphony of sorrow and grief. There is a semi-standing ovation. Kas and TR exchange bows.

Temporary Sanity was a powerhouse, almost tidal with its looming, shifting melodic soundscapes and keening, anthemic vocal.

God Said was understated and subtle yet savage and sarcastic and evolved into

Liar onstage just as effectively as on the new album. A dimly lit intensely green stage is strobe-banded by pure white- intense blue-pale violet liguid washes of illumination pulsating in time to the squadron of F-14 Tomcat power chords that Jesse just unleashed at Mach Eleven only inches overhead. As Ted shrieks and howls with hurricane force, leaning into his endearingly weird stomp-dance moves at stage edge. As Kasim's bass subsonics raise the hair on the back of your neck. The band departs and Ted remains alone to paint a moving, emotional portrait of his

Beloved Infidel with a tasteful application of the ol' Foamer. He crashes through a cover of former Red Rider frontman (and avowed TR- fan) Tom Cochrane's

Lunatic Fringe and departs center stage.

Then re-attired in natty, double-breasted, pimp suits- in mauve, coral, aqua and peach- the band returns to the stage for a rubbery, chicken scratchin' funk workout reminiscent of Jeff Beck's

Superstition. Ted returns to the stage in his own lemon toned three piece suit for- what else?

Soulbrother! (And yes, he makes his mom and daddy proud.) Live though, the "wind" solo sounds synthetic rather than soulful.

Sweet takes several tries to get going- Jesse shifts to bass and Kas and John play the keys and TR grouses theatrically "SOMEHOW we're gonna make it through this!" and quips, "But how about these costumes??? We didn't really come to PLAY tonight- we came to DRESS!" The song's performance is sumptuous though, a banquet of soulful food for the ears from the same honeyed voice we remember soothing ooh baby baby and letting Laura lovingly know he heard her open in El Lay. Off comes the suit coat as, TR strips down to vest and shirtsleeves for

Past. Ted recites the "train conductor" line himself and playfully scats at the end before derailing the following

Hit Me Like A Train with a forgotten lyric. "This is kind of like the SAT's," Ted jokes, "And some of us AREN'T GETTING into college! Calling "do-overs" the hapless one performs

Love Science as an unintended instrumental, pointing at his forehead, groaning: "MIND... TOTALLY... BLANK..." The group re-gels with the jazzy retro moderne swing of

Born To Synthesize/Theme from The Jetsons and finds audience redemption is as close as the neo-gospel groove of

Feel It into a pounding, driven For The Want of A Nail. Ted jumpkicks at the final note. How can an encore of

Hello It's Me possibly be unwelcomed? Kasim sets the bass line and the band finally falls into a feel good singalong with TR testifying to the joy. the final encore of

Just One Victory is greeting by the throng like a long lost love and in a polaroid moment Ted soloes facing Kasim at the front of the stage and then.....

WORLDWIDE EPIPHANY and the place goes up! Dancing, swaying in time, waving they hands in the air like they just don't care, the lilting melody unites the audience in appreciation for the previous one hundred fifty-some minutes of music, mirth and mayhem.

As far as the current setlist is concerned I suspect it will change over time as the band, er, uh, well... LEARNS THE MATERIAL PERHAPS? I'm guessing but I wonder if some of the selections we heard Thursday were performed only because the band ALREADY KNEW HOW TO PLAY THEM? Supposedly today (Friday) was to be an extra rehearsal day- if needed- well, it's needed. Though I was exhilarated to hear "Stoodup" on WXRT FM just as I came up the Dan Ryan and smack into a twenty mile long long parking lot, I do hope it and Living eventually make it to the stage.

A final note:
Oh yeah- merchandising! The sleeveless t-shirts are kind of low profile- basically a logo- no artwork. But there are Liars yoga pants! Liars tank tops! And Liars baseball jerseys! And all the guys in the band had their cds available. Several of Jesse's guitar cookbooks were also for sale.

Other reviews for Ted Runger and the Liars 2004
4/08/2004 - Potawatomi Casino - Milwaukee, WI

Other reviews for overall Ted Runger and the Liars 2004

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