Since no dates were booked within my home state of Texas, I initially feared that I might have to miss Todd’s tour with Joe Jackson and Ethel. Although Nashville or St. Louis were closer in distance, I only began to seriously contemplate making a journey when I realized that the largest number of people, with whom I’ve enjoyed friendly online interaction over the last 2 _ years (through the Interocitor, TR Connection Forums, and other means), were planning to meet in Chicago. Via e-mails, U2Us, and phone calls, plans were discussed, reservations made, and then tickets were purchased. I would content myself with the one show in Chicago, or so I thought, and finally meet my friends.
“But the devil’s in the details…” After catching Todd’s, Joe’s, and Ethel’s stunning performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on Late Night With Conan O’Brien, I became desperate to add a second show to my itinerary, if at all possible. Milwaukee was my only viable option. Thanks to some wonderful people who are fellow fans, my plans became a very fun reality.
My journey began with good vibrations when I noticed the airline’s promotional sign for “One World”, while boarding my flight. nightotter and darnelle vanosten-corbett, who had arrived a bit earlier, met me at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Thursday, May 12. After a bit of sightseeing, we met for dinner and delightful conversation with Dweick and her husband Ed, who had driven in. Following dessert, I caught a ride with Dweick and Ed to Milwaukee.
On Friday, May 13, we did a bit more sightseeing before making our way to the Pabst Theater to obtain my ticket from Will Call. Since Milkwaukee was experiencing low temperatures in the 40s (definitely not Texas weather), I chose to stay warm in a long sleeved red tunic, black slacks, and black velveteen hooded cloak. I’m mentioning this for a reason, which I’ll share in a bit. We waited near the venue at the adjoining Wyndham Milwaukee Center Hotel’s Juneau Pub for others to arrive for a pre-show fan get-together.
We were pleasantly surprised when darnelle vanosten-corbett, nightotter, and veggiegurl arrived unexpectedly, just moments before Scott and weavil, who laughingly commented, “We’re not in a chat room!” The group of us walked a few blocks to a restaurant, which weavil had recommended. It felt so good to share with this group the excited anticipation of a show, for which I had traveled over 1,350 miles. Everyone kindly obliged me with his or her autograph in my copy of Give Them Love, Give Them Bread, the TR-ibute cookbook.
On our way back, we stopped briefly at the Wyndham. A few minutes later, while Ed and I waited for the others, Todd, darnelle vanosten-corbett, and weavil strode in together from the Milwaukee Center’s main foyer. Although I would have no other direct interaction with Todd during this tour, he and I exchanged smiles and said “hello” to one another as he passed by. He then took off, just before the others rejoined us. Rather than dwelling on missed opportunities, we proceeded on to the Pabst Theater.
Non-performance highlights for me were getting to see old pals, meet TikiGirl, CLB (and Kurt), Scott R., and others, and getting to see the stack of cookbook promotional cards on the merchandise table. Although I had waited until almost the last minute to buy my ticket, which meant that I was seated apart from my friends, I was pleased to learn that my Center Mezzanine seat afforded me a great view of the stage. While waiting for the show to begin and missing my fellow “Austin Utopian” buddies, with whom I normally share TR experiences, I struck up a conversation with the stranger seated next to me. He turned out to also be one of weavil’s friends. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.
The lights dimmed. Ralph Farris (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello), Mary Rowell (violin), and Todd Reynolds (violin) proved that Ethel is an excellent, professional ensemble, whose members are passionate about their music. Although I may not recall all of the pieces included in their set, they performed “Memory” (composer Marcelo Zarvos), “Allah Allah (?)“ (I’m uncertain of the name of the piece by composer Todd Reynolds, but it’s inspired by the music of India, I love it, and I want a copy!), “Pelimanni’s Revenge” (composer Timo Alakotila, arranged by Ralph Farris), and the bluesy “Sweet Hardwood: Shuffle” (composer John King). Their approach to classical-styled music is impressive and enthusiastic. Wow!
With a relatively quick break to move Ethel’s platform, Joe Jackson took a seat at the grand piano. Although I was vaguely aware of some of his tunes courtesy of radio airplay and waiting for Todd’s “Time Heals” and Utopia’s “Crybaby” videos to play on MTV, I was not aware that we were in for such a treat. Joe’s eloquence, fine musicianship, and wit became increasingly apparent as he performed “Hometown”, “Steppin’ Out”, “Awkward Age”, “Take It Like A Man”, “It’s Different For Girls”, and “Obvious Song”. The humorous, hopeful “Love At First Light” was a highlight for me. Joe continued with “Girl”, “Be My Number Two”, and an admittedly new song “Citizen Sane”. By the end of “Is She Really Going Out With Him”, I had become a Joe Jackson fan and finally understood why Todd had chosen to tour with Ethel and Joe. Thank you, Todd, for introducing us to these fine musicians.
Following an intermission, Todd appeared onstage, wearing a red velvet jacket, black shirt, and black trousers. I would later hear a few comments on how I had dressed “appropriately” for that night’s show. LOL
Todd proved to be in fine form and good spirits. Using a black Babicz Spider guitar, which has an excellent tonal quality, Todd began his set with “Love Of The Common Man” and “I Don’t Want To Tie You Down”. That night’s version of “Black And White” had spunk, as did Todd. In response to a bit of heckling, Todd retorted, “I feel like John Bolton at the U.N.”. He continued with a bossa nova-styled version of “I Saw The Light”.
Initially ignoring them, Todd dealt with another couple of hecklers with a joking comment, “I see so much of my self in you, shooting your mouth off. Don’t get me started. I could empty the house in five minutes.” After the audience’s laughter quieted, Todd began a beautiful version of “Beloved Infidel”.
Todd set down the guitar and walked over to the piano. Apparently, someone in the audience commented about how intensely bright the stage lights were. Offering a humorous explanation for the necessity of that, Todd responded, “You don’t want to hear me play piano in the dark. Ray Charles I’m not!” Taking his seat at the piano, Todd further kidded by offering his imitation of Jamie Foxx’s portrayal of Ray Charles, before breaking into “Song Of The Viking”, which included a funny bit about horny Vikings (the horn on the left, the horn on the right…).
I was thrilled to once again hear his solo version of “Can We Still Be Friends”. Before continuing with “Hello It’s Me”, he kidded about future performance plans to include “nothing less than an 80-piece orchestra”. When the crowd laughed and applauded that suggestion, he grinned and replied, “Oh yeah? Well, wait ‘til you see the ticket prices then!”
Following “Hello It’s Me”, Todd moved from the piano, crossed the stage, and picked up the ukulele, which he claimed never had to be tuned because of it being haunted by a little imp inside of it, which keeps it in tune. “Excuse me. I have to collect some props,” he quipped, bending down to have an orchid lei and a pair of maile-style ti-leaf leis placed around his neck. Todd kidded about his “long, luxurious, green hair” as he played with one of the “strands” of ti-leaf “hair”. The audience laughed and applauded when he added, “I had hair like that at one time.” He then launched into “Bang The Drum (Ukulele) All Day”.
Before being treated to Todd’s moving acoustic performance of “Afterlife” on the black Babicz Spider guitar, which, for me, was one of the show’s highlights, he answered someone’s question about Foamy’s location. He replied that he had been having problems ever since naming that guitar. “Foamy now insists on having its own dressing room and is there now, getting drunk.” Todd ended his set with “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” and “Lysistrata”, before reintroducing Joe and Ethel, who performed “Real Men”.
The night’s show began on a high note (please pardon the pun) and continued building until reaching the crescendo of the exquisite encore performances of “Pretending To Care”, by Todd and Ethel, who were joined by Joe for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Black Maria”. It was thrilling to see these consummate musicians perform a rendition of “WMGGW”, which managed to outshine the Conan O’Brien performance. I, and everyone else I saw, left the Pabst Theater with a huge smile.
Ed, Dweick, and I returned to Chicago the following afternoon and eventually made our way to the pre-show meeting place, Govnor’s Pub. Most of the people whom I had met at Milwaukee showed up. Although it took traveling to Chicago to do so, I finally met fellow Texan Fierce_Realities, as well as jdmartin, ken (a.k.a. kidnoise), Louanne (and her friend Stephan), Stacey (and her sister), Anna (of codyandanna), SoulAlone, mrem (and Mitch), three of nightotter’s friends, and others, whose names I unfortunately didn’t quite catch. I got even more autographs in my cookbook, including one from our patient waitress. I hope we can all get together for another show sometime. I had a blast!
Ethel’s set list appeared to remain the same in both Milwaukee and Chicago. Both Joe’s and Todd’s voices were still relatively strong and clear, despite it being the third night of performances in a row. Because my seat for the Chicago show was in the Center Orchestra section, I had a better view. However, since I didn’t have the advantage of the spotlight beaming down over my shoulder, as it had in Milwaukee, I must write this from memory, as I was unable to see to write notes.
Joe’s Chicago set changed slightly from his Milwaukee performance, with the deletion of “Girl” and “Be My Number Two”, which were replaced by a rollicking, humorous 1913 music hall song “Hello, Hello, Who’s Your Lady Friend” (from the upcoming Disney film The Greatest Game Ever Played) and his Milwaukee encore song “Real Men”. Joe and Ethel performed the beautiful tune “The Other Me” as their Chicago encore.
Todd’s set was in a slightly different order with a few changes. He followed “Love Of The Common Man” with “I Saw The Light”, “Cliché”, and “Black And White”, but deleted “I Don’t Want To Tie You Down”. He replaced “Can We Still Be Friends” with an exquisite version of “Compassion”, which moved me to tears, as did “Pretending To Care” on both nights. For whatever reason, Todd’s Chicago performance was a bit shorter with the deletion of both “Afterlife” and “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”, yet he still put on a great show. Once again, the encore consisted of “Pretending To Care”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and “Black Maria”.
Although all three acts had again given stellar performances, particularly the encores, venue security quickly chased everyone out of the theatre. As previously planned, several of us met up at 10pin Bowling Lounge, where we shared a bit more fun together before it was finally time for me to say farewell and take “the last ride” back to O’Hare.
Throughout the years, I have approached Todd Rundgren’s music and live performances by following his advice: “take me like I am, that’s the only catch”. No matter whether it’s a movie review by Roger Ebert or a concert review from someone whom I’ve never heard of before, each review is merely one person’s opinion, which may be based on numerous things, which may skew their perspective. I believe that every person is entitled to his or her own opinion, whether or not I agree with it.
I am not afraid to state my opinion, whether I feel the show was excellent, mediocre, or atrocious. However, despite a few minor glitches (an “off” note here, a broken string there, no big deal), the only true distractions for me were, in Milwaukee, when theater security had to remove a couple of noisy drunks from the audience, a few rows in front of me and, in Chicago, when theatre security were overly diligent about preventing lei-giving and photo-taking. My only regrets are that the “Austin Utopians” and other fellow fans could not be with us.
I consider myself quite fortunate that – out of all of the previous TR performances I’ve witnessed: 5 previous solo shows, 2 with The Liars, and 14 with Utopia (including the Ra tour) – not one was a bad show (most were excellent), nor did Todd appear to be uncaring, disrespectful, or inebriated at any of them. Sadly, I am unable to state the same about some members of those audiences.
I must say a big “thank you” to all of Todd’s wonderful fans that made my trip to Milwaukee and Chicago so wonderful and so much fun. Milwaukee and Chicago marked my 28th and 29th time to see Todd perform live. With their mutual respect for one another quite obvious, Todd Rundgren, Joe Jackson, Ralph Farris, Dorothy Lawson, Mary Rowell, and Todd Reynolds had together given two of the finest performances I’ve ever experienced. Again, I applaud you and give many thanks to you all.