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Rundgren, Jackson: contrasting efforts

Both Todd Rundgren and Joe Jackson have established reputations as stylistically diverse, artistically ambitious musicians who follow their muse in unexpected -- and sometimes off-putting -- directions. Both the creative cost and rewards of this willful individualism were apparent during Rundgren and Jackson's solo sets at their sold- out concert at the Cadillac Palace Theatre Saturday night.

Rundgren's persona as an eccentric pop music visionary has garnered him a devoted cult following since the early '70s, but his self- mocking, self-indulgent performance seemed determined to try the patience of even the most devoted fan. Complaining (and worse, explaining) that he was bothered by itching nose hair, incorporating a pseudo-soul man rap about Viking lovemaking into one song, marring his classic "Hello It's Me" with campy oversinging, and performing "Bang The Drum All Day" as a faux-Hawaiian tune, Rundgren was the model of the burnt-out pop musician past the point of caring.

He finally righted himself during the encore, when Jackson and Rundgren joined together, accompanied by the string quartet Ethel, to delivering strong renditions of the soulful "Pretending to Care" and art-rock epic "Black Mariah."

By comparison, Jackson gave an engaging, animated performance that united songs from his late '70s debut through last year. His piano playing found a common ground between jazz and chamber music as he built his songs on rolling bass chords that recalled the "Peanuts" theme and right-hand arabesques.

Stripped of a band's accompaniment, Jackson's melodies were revealed as closer to show tunes than pop music, but he sang them with a rocker's intensity, wittily presenting himself as a sensitive male struggling with masculine gender roles ("It's Different for Girls," "Real Men") and balancing cynicism and romantic hopefulness (the touching "Love at First Light"), and above all as a thoughtful songwriter still passionately committed to his art.

--Kevin McKeough

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05/14/2005 - Cadillac Palace Theatre - Chicago, IL

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