The live show is all about the transference of energy. It is not something you can fake. You can climb up a stack of amps and jump off while you light yourself on fire as you launch into your doubleneck guitar solo but if you are not into it, the gesture means nothing.
Tonight Todd was on fire. He entered through the audience and bounded up on stage in an electric red, blue and purple velvet jacket covered with roosters, a stylish new haircut, and skinny peg leg black pants. He must be on Atkins. The Liars tour was just a warm up for this show. After all those months on tour and few weeks of rest, his voice was well rehearsed. Practice makes perfect. His playing was great as well. Of course there were a few mistakes on the piano but nothing major, until the daunting Hello It's Me. Major meltdown, but it was all tempered with his self deprecating humor so it was very entertaining. When he finished Hello, he remarked of his performance, "It's kind of like when someone makes your favorite recipe, but they put in way too much salt."
The theater was very small, intimate outdoor venue. Behind the stage a pond and a rock cliff. On top of the cliff, a castle. Very cool. Only thirty rows separated Todd from the back of the theater. Todd was really connecting with the crowd, unlike the show I saw at Webster Hall. He looked out and said, "This is kind of like a cult isn't it?" Then someone shouted out, "Todd is God!" Todd shot back, "Exactly! Now go out and slaughter a bunch of babies or something." Laughter and applause. Someone next to me, said to his friend, "there goes the last of the new wave riders." Todd overheard and thought someone was calling out to request that song. Todd was at the piano at the time. Slowly he turned, step by step, inch by inch until he faced the guy. He shot him a look of mock disgust and said, "Ew, I think somebody just farted." Several times, Todd stopped to scream at the airplanes overhead. A lot of planes fly over the city on their way to Laguardia and JFK in Queens. He was just very loose and spontaneous. You could tell he was really enjoying himself. So was his Mom, Ruth. She sat near me and was dancing in her seat, clapping along and singing with the rest of us.
He played the same familiar set list but it was with a whole new energy that made it seem brand new to me. He opened with Lysistrata and the audience was singing and applauding at the "wont go to war" line. I almost cried when he sang I Dont Want To Tie You Down. It was so good. Faithful to the mood of the original recording. He wasn't fooling around. No swing version of Hello It's Me, no campy played out version of Born To Synthesize. He gave his music the respect it deserves and we gave it back to him. Todd was shooting lightning bolts out the top of his head, they circled the audience and we shot them right back at him at twice the intensity. It was like we were all on the same page. At the piano, during Compassion you could hear a pin drop. Actually, there were no pins dropped or drunkards screaming during the quiet parts, but it was so quiet you could hear the crickets in the park. During the last 8 or so bars, the crickets blended in as Todd was fading out. It was kind of like Summer's Cauldron with all the bees and bugs buzzing around. I was in heaven.
He left the stage after One World, the same way as he came in, through the audience. We gave him a standing ovation and then waited for the familiar encores. But oh no, we did not expect this. Nothing could have prepared us. He came back out and introduced Joe Jackson and Ethel, both had played before Todd. Joe sat at the piano and the four string players that made up Ethel, took their places at a riser behind the piano.
Todd counted it off and they came down hard on the downbeat, like a fat man in a cannonball contest. While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The crowd exploded as the spray hit them square in the face. The cello was driving the whole thing. So powerful. These string players weren't reserved at all. They tore into it, rising off their seats and crashing back down, kicking their feet and trashing about. The energy really pushed Todd further. He was grinning from ear to ear.
They finished the song and there was a millisecond of silence. Kind of like a collective gasp of disbelief from the audience. Then it was just screaming. Everyone stood up at once and steamrolled right over the band with thunderous applause.
Todd and Joe were laughing and really getting off. They thanked us and then said they had one more little surprise for us. We sat back down and after some minor adjusting by the quartet, they launched into Black Maria. How could a string quartet, an acoustic guitar and piano deliver the most hard rocking version of Black Maria that I've ever heard? Because it aint about volume or distortion, it's about intent. They intended to beat the crap out of that song.
The violins played Todd's solo bits. They mentioned earlier that they were fans and you could tell. Their solo's were passionate and on the verge of being out of control, fingers were flying. It was so rock. Sure there were a few missed cues, they did it all as a spontaneous jam. Joe did backup and played along as Todd sang his ass off. If you must kill me, please let me die lorrrrrrrrrrrd. Once again, we jumped out of our seats for a standing ovation. Jumped. It wasn't like, "should we stand? Oh look everyone else is, I guess we should." Grunt groan ahh (standing up sounds). No, we shot out of our seats and gave them what they deserved. It sounded like a waterfall.
I've never seen Todd like this. The best show ever.