Concert Review- J. Jackson and T. Rundgren

Review by Paul Paleologos (Switch to

Tuesday night at the Warner theater, these two heavyweights of the 80's pop era appeared on the same stage. The opening act was an avant-garde string quartet collectively known as Ethel. Here's a sentence I never thought I'd say: Ethel was GREAT that night. Consisting of the usual violin, 2 violas and cello, they played modern compositions of their own as well as by composer/friends of theirs. The music ran the gamut from Stravinskyesque dissonance to down home, sippin' whiskey bluegrass. Set a spell. Take yer SHOES off. They were quite accomplished, well rehearsed, and had a good rapport with the audience. Unfortunately, some of the Rundgren/Jackson fans were not as appreciative of avante garde music as they should have been. Consequently, there was some difficulty in getting their overweight, forty-something Family Guy asses to SHUT THE FUCK UP while the music was playing. Ethel seemed used to being somewhat ignored (now, THERE'S a sentence you could see coming) and handled the conversation during their performance professionally. I did not. Why is it there's always some jackass who's convinced that you paid a hundred dollars of your hard earned money to listen to his sophomoric commentary rather than the musicians on stage? A lot of the crowd were, however, sensitive, intelligent listeners, so we quickly formed a mob and set upon and killed the offending parties. After that, it was all Ethel.

Ethel played four or five numbers, a fairly short set, and then left the stage to Joe Jackson. Joe is getting up there in years; I'd put him at about 49 years old, six feet seven and maybe 110 pounds. Joe started out cynical as a young man, mellowed for a while, and seems to have become cynical again. This could be the setting: This was a low budget tour, no question about it. My guess is that Todd and Joe had a bad day at the track and need to bolster up the old bank accounts. There was no band, just Joe and a piano. Joe's a good piano player, but he's a fairly weak singer. His career has been the result of good backup bands and good songwriting, not impressive vocal skills. Take the band away, and what you have is an over the hill punk rocker sitting at a piano trying to croon out old punk rock songs. Add to that the fact that whatever songwriting skills Joe used to have, he's lost. This happens; remember Paul McCartneys awful tune "America" that he whipped up a couple weeks after 9/11? This came from the guy who wrote Let it Be, so I understand the ideas can run dry. Joe smartly stuck mostly to the old stuff, and a lot of the old stuff actually DOES lend itself to the piano bar style, so it wasn't all bad, but there were obvious mistakes, his voice cracked noticeably a few times, and frankly, even though I'd classify the performance as mostly competent, the piano and no band idea got boring after about five tunes.

Todd was not boring. That's because Todd was just awful. I liked his attitude about it, though: he didn't give a SHIT about making mistakes. Apparantly, Todd forgot we paid good money to be in there to see music. I guess he thought we all got in free on the GI bill or something. Todd broke a string on the first note of the first tune. He stopped, held up the guitar, rolled his eyes, glared at the off-stage guitar tech, and screamed, "Jesus!!". The soon-to-be-fired roadie quickly swooped out and took the guitar offstage to restring it. Todd picked up the other guitar he had on stage, muttered that he "didn't even know how THIS guitar WORKS" and began to mercilessly beat our a few songs. Not being a TR fan myself, I didn't know a lot of the songs, but for two songs or so things settled in and were tolerable, although clearly Todd was not comfortable being out there all by himself. It's got to be tough, you got nothing to hide behind musically, and every mistake is easy to spot, so I have to cut both of these guys a little slack for that, but still, the concept of REHEARSING seems to be somewhat lost on them. The clear impression to me was that they threw together a tour to make a quick buck.

Todd then sat down at the piano. Note to Todd: Do NOT sit down at a piano, ever again. Todd shouldn't sit at a piano for the same reason that I shouldn't perform an appendectomy: lives can be put in danger. One tune had to be stopped and started twice because he screwed up the intro. He had a good line, though. He told us we confused him with our enthusiasm. My guess is that Todd had plenty of opportunity to think that line up.

The last part of the night had Ethel back on stage with Todd and Joe together. I forget what tunes they did, there were just a couple, and the whole night was so forgettable that I might as well forget this part, too, but I did notice something: I really don't think Todd and Joe like each other. There was none of that arm-in-arm let's sing one of mine then we can do one of yours type cameraderie. I think Joe didn't like being second fiddle (apologies to Ethel) and Todd was clearly the headliner here. They didn't get close to each other. I'm guessing after the show they didn't meet up in the hotel for a couple drinks. (I think next time they should meet up BEFORE the show for a LOT of drinks). There was energy between them; the same sort of energy that Stalin and Hitler had between them. Forced cooperation. Collaboration out of necessity. Think about it: you're an over the hill washed up songwriter, you're hurting for cash, and you need ANOTHER over the hill washed up singer to collaborate with. That's gotta make the options somewhat limited, right? "Hello, Boy George? Interested in a tour? Oh, you've got your impetigo treatments that week? OK, thanks, I'll try Rundgren next...."

Do check out Ethel, though, they redeemed to some extent the price of admission.

Other reviews for Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson and Ethel 2005
04/26/2005 - Warner Theatre - Washington, DC

Other reviews for overall Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson and Ethel 2005

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