Review of Webster Hall

Review by Josh Chasin (Switch to

For a number of reasons, this is probably the only show I'll get to see on this tour. So I can't comment on it in the context of other shows, but I gather from the buzz that I caught a real good one.

The setlist, with song abbreviations that show up later:

Buffalo Grass
Fascist Christ
I Hate My Frickin' ISP
While My Guitar Gently Weeps (WMGGW)
God Said
Beloved Infidel (TR solo)
Lunatic Fringe (TR solo)
"funk jam" (band sans TR)
Soul Brother
Love Science
Born to Synthesize (BTS)
Feel It
Want of a Nail

Hello Its Me Just One Victory (JOV) > Worldwide Epiphany (WWE)

The show started at about ten after 8, to the pre-recorded strains of "Truth." The band members took the stage, arrayed left to right in a semi-circle of-- I don't know, work spaces? Risers? Individual backlit birth canals?-- Prairie Prince, Kasim Sulton, Jesse Gress, and John Ferenzik. There was a gap between Kasim and Jesse's areas from which Todd emerged, as the band members strapped on or sat at their instruments and began playing with the backing track, literally bringing the music alive. Then Todd sings-- while he didn't shy away from guitar, he did spend most of the show as lead vocalist only-- and it is thrilling, a great new song delivered in classic Todd style. The light show, much raved about, was the most impressive bit of visual aid in a Todd show in ages, but I was not as knocked out by it as others-- owing I'd guess to a combination of personal focus on the music, and the substances I did or did not ingest (emphasis on not).

Kasim's distinct vocals immediately differentiate this reading from the studio version. Then "Buffalo Grass," one of the better of Todd's 21st century efforts. The backing vocals are layered and intricate; Kasim's bass provides a fat, deft, melodic bottom. Jesse plays some tasty licks on the mid-song solo break; at the end Todd grabs an ax and wails.

"Mammon" is up next; again Kasim's processed, distinct vocals are prominent in the background mix. His presence makes the music sound less solitary than it does on record. "Fascist Christ" features a smoking Todd guitar solo. Then Todd announces that "we're a rock'n'roll band!", and they launch into "ISP," which while quite catchy and infectious, comes off as something of a novelty song, and a dated one at that (surely broadband has come to Hawaii by now.)

Todd counts in (and begins playing) WMGGW, but the band begins "Unloved Children," which usually occupies this spot in the setlist. Todd calls them to a halt, reminds them of the change, and deliberately, slowly counts the song in again. He started playing this on the Walk Down Abbey Road tour and recorded it for a Harrison tribute; it seems odd in the set but it is hard to quarrel with any song that provides a vehicle for his shredding distinctive lead work. The beginning of "God Said" features some sweet, layered keyboard work from both Ferenzik and Gress. "Liars" rocks the house live and ends the "first set." Todd walks off for the instrumental break and the band rocks out; Kasim slathers on deep, thundering bass, then Todd returns and sings with himself (pre-recorded or delayed; it was unclear) to bring the song to a forceful close.

The band leaves the stage-- changing into their soul costumes-- while Todd plays a solo guitar version of "Beloved Infidel," drenched in echo. It is thematically a logical follow-up to "Liars," which is a pointed commentary on the middle east. Then a solo version of Red Ryder's "Lunatic Fringe," probably a consensus lowlight. Now the band returns in their second-half pimp costumes and begins to kick out the jams on a funk instrumental as Todd leaves to change. Neat device for splitting the show into 2 sections without a set break. I have heard this jam referred to as "Green Onions," "Expressway to Your Heart," "Superstition," and "funk jam." I can't say for sure which it is. I definitely hear "Superstition." The players solo left to right-- drums, bass, guitar, then keys. Toward the end, the band tosses in a definite tease of the Beatles' "Birthday."

Todd comes out in his costume for a funked-up "Soul Brother." The arrangement features three keyboards and drums. Then two more from the new one, probably the two prettiest-- "Sweet" and "Past," a two-song blast of blue-eyed soul, faux Marvin Gaye. Indeed "Past" is somewhat reminiscent musically of "Lost Horizon," which is actually about Gaye. Then Todd tosses in "Love Science"-- featured earlier on the tour but dropped-- and the pacing of the show is definitely helped, as some distance is inserted between the pretty soul and the somewhat goofy workout on "Born to Synthesize." The band still plays the version they broke out on the With a Twist tour (same band), a hepcat jazz arrangement with melodic teases and snippets ranging from Utopia's "Marriage of Heaven and Hell" (Jesse tosses this in; tonight Todd scats along, which is cool) to the theme from the Jetsons. Todd introduces the band thusly: "Meet George Jetson..." At one point, Kasim tosses in the signature riff from the Utopian anthem "Seven Rays," to the brief delight of the cognoscenti. Todd walks off and lets the band play an extended jazzy jam, and while the musicianship is beyond reproach, it really does go on. When Todd returns to finish up the vocals, though, his stylings are distinctly reminiscent of the original studio version, complete with those maniacal whoo woos. It is a welcome return.

The soul set finishes up with a 1-2 from Nearly Human-- a heartfelt rendition of "Feel It," then the poppy "Want of a Nail." Todd has not touched a guitar since "Lunatic Fringe."

The first encore, "Hello Its Me," seems out of place; the kind of fans who would most appreciate this song would probably have hated the rest of the show. Todd does it almost sarcastically, exhorting the crowd to sing along by holding the mic out and saying, "Get your money's worth!" Then the band begins "Just One Victory," the one-time Utopian anthem and show-closer. I have never seen this song performed without Todd wearing a guitar, but for most of it he is not, and it is a bit jarring. Of course, for the climactic solo, he does strap it on and peel off those searing familiar lines. Kasim, who's vocals on the counter-melody ("Hold that line baby hold that line...") were already inducing Utopia flashbacks, spontaneously hops off his riser and joins Todd at the front of the stage-- somewhat to Todd's surprise-- to jam out the song's close. To us old Utopia fans-- even the jaded ones, like me-- it is a magic, chilling time warp of a moment, Todd and Kasim bopping around together as "Just One Victory" plays out.

Then Kasim hops back into place as the band immediately slams into "Worldwide Epiphany." A strong piece, powerfully played. Many fans have called 1993's No World Order Todd's modern-day A Wizard, A True Star. In this light the juxtaposition of the old and the new-- JOV and WWE-- puts a sweaty exclamation on a night of musical redemption.

Critiques? I've got a couple. I would have actually liked to hear MORE off the new album. But as Todd said on the radio, he didn't compose Liars thinking "guitar, bass, keys, drums" and not all the songs could be done live. That's actually part of the album's charm. The jokes in BTS are getting stale, and the instrumental break in the middle goes on way... too... long. If I never heard "Hello Its Me" live again I wouldn't kick, and any song he remembers the chords to would be preferable to "Lunatic Fringe," which was interesting on his solo tour last year but has grown tiresome. Maybe his solo cover of "What's going On" might make a nice lead-in to the soul set. And why not "Surf Talks" instead of ISP?

But these are mere quibbles in the eternal scheme of things. I've seen Todd in various incarnations a good 70 times over the years, and this was one of the best. The band was tight, impassioned; it was just one of those nights when everything was "on." I told Todd before the show, about Liars, that "I did not see an album this good coming." The same might be said of the show.

Other reviews for Todd Rundgren and the Liars 2004
5/07/2004 - Webster Hall - New York, NY

Other reviews for overall Todd Rundgren and the Liars 2004

The Todd Rundgren Connection is brought to you by Roger D. Linder & The Linder Logo Rocemabra Web Services.