Fast-forward a couple of decades and the last time I saw him in Dallas he performed alone in a suspended cage. His act was wonderfully high-tech at the time: he was surrounded by sequencers, monitors and other goodies. Having seen photos of him over the years, he's ALWAYS surrounded by audio and video gear, so I know this guy is a gear-head, a boy who likes his toys. That resonates with me, plus I love some of his music, so it was with great anticipation that I attended tonight's performance. I only wish I'd known that my tympanic bones would be resonating hours later as I type this review.
Upon entering the bowling alley-like venue, I was at first disheartened to see an already-full room and the stage a mere speck at the far end of the lanes. But knowing the lemming-like behavior of Dallasites (they form long lines even when alternate paths exist), we wormed our way through the crowd and found two prime seats within spitting distance of the stage. Shortly, a sequencer starts, followed by the band and then Todd. As previous reviews have revealed, the band is costumed like archetypal religious leaders. The staging and equipment is wonderfully high-tech, gear goodies galore, keyboards that fold down out of the lighting trusses - it's heaven for a technologist!
And loud. I tried listening commando style but it was just a roar. Spector's wall of sound was a string quartet to this typhoon. Pain is not entertaining. My buddy brought cotton so we were soon wearing protection and able to enjoy the spectacle unfolding before us. But at that point I was developing this nagging suspicion that the show was going to be more spectacle than content. Todd is quite a physical showman. Like I said, he's BIG yet light on his feet and very emotive with his hands and face. And those costumes! I was chuckling through the first several numbers because the whole thing (e.g., a cardinal playing drums, Todd periodically running over to a tablet PC on a lighting truss to make notes or start sequences, I couldn't tell) it was all such a hoot. At one point, a tune started that consisted largely of a rhythmic low-frequency pulse, and there literally was A WIND produced by the sound waves. The old Maxell tape advertisement made real. I touched my hair to see if it was blowing. What a sonic assault!
The first set of the show was the best part of the night, and for this reason -- and this reason alone -- it's worth attending.
But as time wore on the sonic assault got old, lyrics were only occasionally decipherable, and all that equipment and musical talent was lost in the cacophony, except during the occasional solo. We escaped to the back to sample what the mixer was hearing.
There's not a lot nuance possible when mixing a Lear Jet and a Top Fuel Dragster. We could remove the cotton back there, and during one quieter tune it actually sounded okay, but then the blast resumed and that was it. We stayed, but the enjoyment quotient dropped like Bush's approval ratings. Two encores yielded "Hello It's Me," which was a hoped-for treat. We'd snuck back up front by then so we got to see Todd shake hands with numerous sweaty writhing fans, oblivious to their imminent hearing loss and life of tintinitis.
Yet Todd's message was not lost. For one thing, I have the CD of "Liars". One of his best. So I already knew what's on his mind. And his physical and facial antics were words enough, especially with the costumes. Todd appears to be filled with anger and doubt. His government has let him down, way down, downer than ever in our shared lifetime, plus, he has theological issues. Major ones.
That resonated with me, too. I just finished John Updike's memoir, "Self-consciousness", where he eloquently details his theological struggles, which serendipitously led me to buy another Updike book, "In the Beauty of the Lillies". I would recommend that Todd read both.
To quote from the section of his memoir where Updike offers the incipient reasons for his deciding to develop some spiritual beliefs:
1. If God does not exist, the world is a horror-show.
2. The world is not a horror-show.
3. Therefore, God exists.
Updike goes much deeper into his struggles, so RTFB. Then segue to "Lillies," which starts with a preacher who one day decides God is dead, so he proceeds to screw up his life and that of his family. ALL of which is to say that there's some weird-ass synchronicity going on here for my head to be swimming with real and fictional accounts of the same struggles Todd is having. I suspect it's a collective thing happening: we're seeing our tax dollars and future social security gushing out of the "lock box" to pay for a Crusade against people who believe they should kill us by blowing themselves up for THEIR God. They're promised virgins when they die; we're promised wings and halos. Or maybe it's all about oil. Who knows? But there ARE religious wars seemingly everywhere, and it's f'ing scary. So I understand Todd's angst and appreciate his efforts to share his take on the mess.
But he should realize that his audience is not a bunch of knuckle-dragging head bangers, and if he wants his message heard he and his band should remove those damned custom-molded in-ear monitors so they can hear what their audience is hearing. He needs to fix it in the mix.