Unfortunately, my wife and I only caught the last half of Ethel's opening performance (Ticketmaster had assigned us seats that were taken up by the soundboard(!) so we had to piddle around and wait in line until things got straightened out. Grrrrrrr!) From what I saw, though, Ethel was great. I agree with David Gay's comments in his review of the 5/09/05 Nashville, Tennessee show: "Though they may not be everyone's cup of tea, I think no one can come away with the feeling that they weren't playing their asses off and that they weren't into the performance." Most warm-up acts are (for me anyway) complete torture to sit through. I found Ethel relaxing, interesting, and perfect for the two musical geniuses they were warming up for.
Joe Jackson came out shortly after Ethel left the stage, and played for 51 minutes (yes, I am very anal). Here was his set list for the St. Louis show, for anybody interested:
1. Home Town/Steppin' Out 2. Awkward Age 3. Take it Like a Man 4. It's Different for Girls 5. The Obvious Song 6. Love at First Light 7. Life on Mars (David Bowie song) 8. Be My Number Two 9. Citizen Sane 10. Is She Really Going Out With Him?The only thing wrong with Joe's performance was it was much too short. His voice sounded great, his piano playing sublime. He has such a wonderful wit. But of course, I'm not paying for his "wit." I'm paying for his performance. And his performance was top notch. "Love at First Light" was particularly beautiful. "Citizen Sane" was a song he announced he had written but not yet recorded. If it is a barometer of his next album's quality, though, we Joe Jackson fans are all in for a big treat! While I would have LOVED to hear "Stranger Than You" from Night and Day II, it would have been impossible for him to play everything I wanted to hear in a single evening, because the man is simply too prolific with an unusually high proportion of excellent tunes.
After about a 20 minute intermission, Todd took the stage with his guitar. Todd played for 44 minutes (yes, I am very anal) before re-introducing Joe and Ethel, and leaving the stage for the first "encore." Here was Todd's set list for the St. Louis show, for anybody interested:
1. Love of the Common Man 2. I Don't Want to Tie You Down 3. Black and White 4. I Saw The Light 5. Tiny Demons (Todd puts down the guitar and hops on the piano) 6. Song of the Viking 7. Compassion 8. Hello It's Me (Todd grabs his ukulele) 9. Bang on the Ukulele Daily (Bang the Drum All Day) (Todd straps on his guitar again) 10. Afterlife 11. LysistrataFirst of all, let me just say that I completely disagree with any review of this show that suggests that Todd was not taking the performance seriously or was otherwise "sub-par." This isn't just because I'm a completely unobjective Todd nut, either. I have seen Todd do the solo thing probably 10 plus times, and although I can't say I've ever been "disappointed," I can understand the criticism he receives. It does seem that at times when he does his solo thing he just isn't motivated to rehearse all his tunes to perfection. I've seen him have to stop halfway through a song because he forgot the chords or the lyrics, and he just laughs it off. His fans are so hard core that they forgive his mistakes, and almost seem to welcome them in some peculiar way as it gives them a unique concert experience. I read some of the reviews of the first few shows he did on this tour, and thought "Oh no . . . here we go again." So I was paying very close attention to the detail in his performance Saturday night. I can honestly say that I have NEVER heard him perform a solo show with so much apparent drive to "get it right." And boy oh boy, did he get it right! His voice was in absolutely top form. His guitar playing and piano playing was right on the money. Although I believe I may have heard a single sour note on "Song of the Viking," it was nothing more than a tiny pimple on the butt of a super model. His perfection in singing and playing Saturday night dispels for me any notion that he was "sub par" or otherwise not taking things seriously. One of my favorite moments of banter was when somebody in the audience apparently yelled out half-way through the show a song request (I didn't catch what song was being requested). Todd gave the person a funny look and said something to the effect of: "Everybody wants to stampede to the clitoris." I was initially like "HUH?!?!?" until he immediately followed up with something to the effect of: "That's a show closer . . . I'm not going to play that song in the MIDDLE of the set!" I couldn't stop laughing! Analogizing his concert with sex was too cool! You go right ahead, Todd . . . foreplay is just fine!
I was particularly happy with "Hello, It's Me." I've heard Todd play that song numerous times, and he always seems to "mess with it." I suppose it has to do with him getting sick of playing it over and over and over. It was an almost R&B tune for his Nearly Human shows, then it turned into this dreadful "dirge" for With a Twist. But on Saturday, May 7, 2005, in St. Louis, Missouri, Todd played it much more like he used to . . . back in the days when he was performing it in the middle 70's on Midnight Special in full butterfly make-up! I think sometimes an artist gets so tired of playing his or her most popular songs that he or she has to completely re-write it to stay interested in continuing to perform it, and it ends up sounding nothing like what we the audience want to hear. Well, thank you, Todd, for leaving "Hello, It's Me" alone Saturday night! Artists must be reminded that it's never necessary to mess with perfection.
My personal favorite of Todd's main solo act was "Afterlife" from his Liars CD. I never thought "Afterlife" was as good as most of the other songs on Liars, but I attained a new found appreciation for it after hearing it performed with just a voice and guitar. Wow!
After Todd finished "Lysistrata" he reintroduced Joe and Ethel, and Todd left the stage. Joe and Ethel came out and performed "Real Men" from Joe's Night and Day. "Real Men" is such a fantastic song, and as Joe pointed out before they started, it was performed on Night and Day with strings, so it was obviously appropriate to do with Ethel. It was SO well done, that I almost turned to my wife to let her know we had just seen the highlight of the entire evening . . . until Todd came out and performed "Pretending to Care" with Ethel. Whoa! OK. THAT was the highlight of the evening! I'm very curious whether Todd or Ethel scored the string arrangement, but it was perfect. "Pretending to Care" is quite simply one of the best and most beautiful songs that Todd Rundgren has ever composed. It is lyrically poignant, and musically ethereal. How anybody could listen to this without having shivers run up and down his or her spine is beyond my comprehension. If that was the only song he had played the entire evening, I think I would have left a happy man. Thank you, Todd!
Two final encores after "Pretending to Care": "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Black Maria." Todd, Joe, and Ethel all performed these last two numbers together. It was a treat to hear them play the Beatles cover together. Todd, of course, recorded "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" for the 2003 CD: "Songs from the Material World: A Tribute to George Harrison." Who would have thought that the song would sound so good with a guitar, piano, and string quartet? Todd and Joe took turns singing, but the highlight of that song was probably the viola player from Ethel's solo. Eric Clapton would have been proud! And finally, the show ended with "Black Maria" from Todd's Something/Anything? It was kind of a pity they ended the show with "Black Maria," a song that never did much for me. I was disappointed that Todd didn't choose something else in it's place when he toured with Ringo Starr, and I was disappointed that this song ended the "Todd & Joe Show." It's a heavy song that relies on heavy guitar, but it seemed to do little more than showcase Ethel's violinists. Don't get me wrong . . . Ethel has fine musicians who did a great job with "Black Maria." I guess I just would have preferred the show ending with me being dazzled by Joe & Todd and not by Ethel! Oh well . . . Frankly, I don't think they could have done ANYTHING after "Real Men" and "Pretending to Care" that would have made much difference. By Todd's analogy . . . "Real Men" and "Pretending to Care" was the "climax" of the evening for me . . . "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Black Maria" was little more than post-bliss snuggling.
One more thing: if you can still catch one of these shows and you like concert t-shirts, bring $25.00 times 3. The shirts are pretty cool, and there are three. All of them are white pictures & lettering on black t-shirts. One of them has a picture of Todd on the front captioned "Todd", and a picture of Joe on the back captioned "Joe." Another has a picture of Joe on the front captioned "Joe", and a picture of Todd on the back captioned "Todd." The third shirt had both Todd and Joe pictures (with appropriate captions) on the front, with a smaller (appropriately captioned) "Ethel" picture underneath and between "Joe" and "Todd", and a list of tour venues on the back. Bring cash . . . they don't take credit cards.
If you have not yet purchased tickets for one of these shows . . . do not walk . . . but RUN to the box office to secure some seats! You're not going to get Kasim Sultan or Graham Maby . . . you're not going to get "Singring and the Glass Guitar" or "Five Guys Named Moe" . . . but you're going to get a wonderful and unique evening featuring two of the most phenomenal and under-appreciated artists around who will leave you begging for more!